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Woman Can Sue Over Police Raid

Federal appeals court rules that authorities can be held liable for allegedly terrorizing a jailed man's girlfriend and baby.

September 22, 2004|David Rosenzweig | Times Staff Writer

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a team of federal, state and Los Angeles law enforcement officers can be held liable for raiding a parolee's home while he was in jail and allegedly terrorizing his girlfriend and their 5-week-old son.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a civil rights lawsuit brought by Darla Motley, whose boyfriend is an alleged member of the Four Trey Crips gang.

U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow threw out Motley's lawsuit, asserting that the officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the state parole authority had qualified immunity.

But the appeals court disagreed, finding that the officers had no right to conduct the search because parolee Janae Jamerson was in jail at the time, a fact they should have known before targeting his home.

The court majority also ruled that Motley was entitled to a jury trial on her claim that the law enforcement team also violated her constitutional rights by threatening to arrest her and place her baby in foster care unless she let them in.

Once inside, she alleged, one officer pushed her against a wall while another entered the baby's room and pointed his gun at the child while the others rummaged through her belongings.

The majority opinion was by judges Betty B. Fletcher and Harry Pregerson. In a dissent, Judge Melvin Brunetti said the officers had a reasonable basis for believing that Jamerson was living at the house, having been given his name and address by their superiors. Jamerson was one of 10 parolees they were instructed to contact to determine if they were complying with terms of their release.

"Given the split in the court, we're evaluating our next move," said Terree A. Bowers, chief deputy city attorney. The defendants could seek an appeal before a larger panel of 9th Circuit Court judges.

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