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HUNTINGTON BEACH : City Joins Appeal of Police Powers Ruling

August 25, 1992|BILL BILLITER

The City Council has unanimously voted to support legal efforts to overturn a controversial court decision affecting a city's police powers.

At issue is the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision earlier this year against a police officer in Santa Rosa. The court in effect ruled that the Santa Rosa officer did not wait long enough after knocking on a door before forcing entry.

According to Joanne Speers, general counsel for the League of California Cities, Santa Rosa police in 1987 had staked out a house suspected of being a site for drug operations, and one officer knocked on the door.

Speers said the officer forced entry after about seven seconds because there were indications that the people inside had been warned and might be destroying evidence.

Speers said that when officers forced entry into the house, a man inside threatened them with a gun, and one officer shot the man. The wounded man later filed a federal civil rights suit that contended police had violated the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. The suit claimed that police did not wait long enough after knocking before forcing their way into the home.

The appeals court ruling against the officer in the suit, if not challenged, could greatly hamper both police and city governments, Speers said.

Rene Auguste Chouteau, city attorney for Santa Rosa, said that the appeals court decision hurts police in all California cities. That decision, Chouteau said, "leaves every police officer serving a warrant in a situation of danger with the dilemma of not knowing how long he must wait before entering."

The League of California Cities is helping with Santa Rosa's efforts to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Huntington Beach City Council last week voted to join in the appeal to the Supreme Court as a "friend of the court." Several other cities are also joining in the appeal, according to League of California Cities officials.

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