A California woman settled an excessive-force lawsuit for $6.7 million last week after cops had broken into her home without a warrant and wound up breaking her ankle.
If those facts sound familiar, it's because they are eerily similar to what cops in Missouri and Alabama have done to my wife, Carol, and me. (See video above of the California incident from a police body cam.)
|A cop prepares to kick in Danielle Burfine's door|
The breaking-a-bone part is straight from the playbook of Greene County, MO, deputies. who broke into our home for an unlawful eviction in September 2015 and broke Carol's left arm so severely that it required trauma surgery for repair.
At the heart of the California case is a Santa Clara woman named Danielle Harmon Burfine, who refused to allow entry to her home without a warrant -- and cops wound up kicking in the door and roughing her up. Why were cops on the premises? This is from a story at sfbay.ca:
They were there to arrest Harmon Burfine’s 15-year-old daughter on suspicion of arson in connection with a fire that caused an evacuation and $350,000 in damage at a Santa Clara high school roughly a week earlier on April 4.
After forcing entry into the plaintiff’s home, officers grabbed her and swung her to the ground, smashing her ankle up against a stone wall. She suffered a fracture, and the injury may be permanently disabling, according to her attorneys.
After multiple surgeries Harmon Burfine developed a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, in which the chronic pain in her injured leg has spread to other limbs.
City attorney Brian Doyle said in a statement that while there was “significant disagreement about the extent of the injury” they do not dispute the claim that Harmon Burfine suffered a broken ankle when police entered her home without a warrant.
How mind-blowing is this case? Here is more from sfbay.ca, starting with a quote from city attorney Doyle:
“The City’s insurer determined that the most prudent course of action was to pay an amount that would result in a settlement.”
But as a result of the settlement, evidence disputing the injury claim will never be presented at trial, according to the city. Santa Clara police Chief Michael Sellers called that disappointing in the city’s statement:
“I fully support the police officers who acted in good faith to arrest this arsonist wanted on felony charges.”
What do we have here? The city's insurer considered the police misconduct so egregious that it was willing to pay $6.4 million to make the case go away -- probably out of concern that a jury trial might result in a much larger damages figure than that. But you have the police chief saying he supports the officers, who "acted in good faith." Breaking a woman's ankle is "acting in good faith"? What kind of loons are serving as police chiefs and sheriffs in this country?
They are the kind of loons who are clueless about the law they are supposed to uphold. We've written multiple times about Payton v. New York, a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court case that generally prohibits warrantless entry into a private home to make an arrest. But this dumb-ass police chief in California doesn't know about Payton -- and neither do dumb-ass sheriff's in Alabama and Missouri? Sheesh, no wonder the rule of law is on life support in the Age of Trump.
What impact might the California settlement have on our cases? None, that I know of. We've already filed what we call "The Jail Case" over the abuse directed at me in Alabama, and service is being conducted (we hope) by the court as we write this. We also have "The House Case" over the wrongful foreclosure on our home of 25 years in Birmingham -- and it currently is on appeal before the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta. We soon will be filing a federal lawsuit in Missouri over the brutality inflicted on Carol in Greene County.
Could one or more of our cases result in damages like those in the California case? I have no idea. In my view, the California case sends two messages:
(1) Governmental entities (cities, counties) that do not keep rogue law-enforcement officers under control put themselves at risk of serious liability;
(2) At least one insurer, in one California jurisdiction, thought it wise to pay $6.7 million rather than risk an even bigger damage award if the case went to trial.
An argument can be made that Carol and I have suffered worse abuse than did Ms. Burfine. For example:
(1) We were arrested; she was not;
(2) We spent time in jail -- me for five months -- and she did not;
(3) Neither of our incidents involved criminal matters; her daughter was a suspect in an arson case;
(4) Cops had no grounds to be on our property, much less breaking into our homes; cops had no grounds to break into the Burfine home, but they did have grounds to be there, due to her daughter's status as a criminal suspect.
I applaud Ms. Burfine and her attorneys -- Michael Haddad and Julia Sherwin, of San Francisco -- for holding the bastard cops accountable. We intend to pull all necessary levers to seek accountability in our cases.