Texas SWAT Team Held Innocent Family at Gunpoint After Raiding the Wrong Home

March 21, 2024   |   Tags: ,
SWAT Team | Illustration: Lex Villena; Midjourney

A Texas SWAT Team raided an innocent family's house in 2019, barging into the family's home and holding them at gunpoint before realizing they were at the wrong address. But when the family sued, officers were granted qualified immunity. 

In a request for additional review filed earlier this month, the Institute for Justice (I.J.), a civil liberties law firm, seeks to challenge that, arguing that police had more than enough opportunities to know they were raiding the wrong home.

On an evening in March 2019, a Waxahachie, Texas, SWAT Team, led by Lt. Mike Lewis, burst into Karen Jimerson and James Parks' home. According to legal documents, "Lewis ordered his SWAT team to 'break and rake'" the family's home, "smashing through windows, detonating a flashbang grenade, and kicking down the door with guns drawn."

After causing considerable damage to the family's home, police held them at gunpoint, including the couple's three children. But the officers didn't have a warrant for a no-knock raid on the family's house. Instead, their next-door neighbor was the intended target.

It shouldn't have been difficult to tell which home the officers were supposed to raid—there were major differences in the neighboring houses' appearance. The house police had obtained a warrant for was surrounded by a chain link fence, had a detached garage, and a front porch, and had its address painted to the curb and onto a pole holding up the porch. In contrast, Jimerson and Parks' home had no porch, no detached garage, no fence, and a huge wheelchair ramp leading to the home's front door.

Karen Jimerson sued Lewis in 2020, arguing that his actions violated her family's Fourth Amendment rights. After a lengthy legal battle, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted Lewis qualified immunity on appeal, ruling that because he did more than "nothing" to verify that he had the correct house, he was entitled to immunity. 

The three-judge panel found, "If an officer takes some steps to identify the correct house before executing the warrant, he is entitled to qualified immunity," I.J. summarized, "even if he fails to employ the information learned in taking these steps."

However, according to I.J., the steps Lewis took to verify the correct address were minimal—"reviewing the warrant, searching a website, speaking with DEA agents, and briefly looking at the Jimersons' house before ordering officers to storm it"—and nearly all occurred before he arrived at the scene of the raid.

"Lewis's decision to order the raid was obviously unconstitutional," I.J. wrote in a document requesting that the case be heard by the full slate of 5th Circuit judges. "All adults know they cannot waltz into a stranger's house without confirming it's the one they have permission to enter."

This case is far from the first time police have barged into the wrong address with disastrous consequences. In 2022, other Texas cops held an innocent couple at gunpoint after raiding the wrong house. In 2018, police in Bexar County, Texas, burst into the wrong address while conducting a no-knock drug raid—and kept searching the home, even after they realized their mistake. Beyond Texas, a 2023 report found that Chicago cops accidentally raided the wrong house almost two dozen times between 2017 and 2020.

The post Texas SWAT Team Held Innocent Family at Gunpoint After Raiding the Wrong Home appeared first on Reason.com.


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