Dearborn Heights Officer Scott Keller goes into house he shouldn’t have
Case: SAAD v. CITY OF DEARBORN HEIGHTS (E.D.Mich. 6-26-2012)
What happened: Officer Scott Keller was investigating an allegedly threatening voice mail message when he knocked on plaintiffs’ door to inquire about the message. One of the plaintiffs opened the door for Officer Keller. At this point in the story, the accounts diverge. Plaintiffs say that Officer Keller put his boot in the door. Officer Keller says that after a short discussion plaintiff shoved him. At any event, plaintiff closed the door on Officer Keller’s foot. Backup arrived and the policemen headed into the house and forcibly arrested plaintiffs, including an application of electroshock to the plaintiff who had refused to let Officer Keller into the house. Officer Keller was treated for injuries to his foot and ankle. Plaintiffs were charged with resisting arrest (but apparently not for the allegedly threatening phone call). The charges were dismissed before trial because of inconsistencies in the stories of the various policemen involved. Plaintiffs sued for illegal entry, false arrest and excessive force.
Decision: No qi for the policemen because plaintiff may not have shoved Officer Keller. If plaintiff didn’t shove Officer Keller then the entry and arrest were not justified, but a trial is needed to determine whether the shove really happened.
Comment: There will probably not be a trial. Usually these cases settle out of court after qi is denied as it was here. I expect that Officer Keller will maintain that he was shoved and that he acted properly. I would disagree for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t particularly believe he was shoved. Second, even if he was shoved then it was probably to get his boot out of the door, which is a place that his boot had no place being. Third, even if there was a shove and his boot wasn’t in the door at the time he was shoved, Officer Keller should understand that doing a knock and talk at the home of a suspect is an inherently coercive situation — just let the shove go (for the moment) and come back with a warrant — man’s home is his castle and the homeowner should get some police deference at that threshold. Fourth, . . . well, the fourth point deserves its own comment.
Another comment: Fourth, if Officer Keller is doing a knock and talk to investigate a possible crime then he really needs to be audio and video recording. In other words, if Officer Keller is going to push the envelope at the front door of the suspect’s home (and he clearly was doing that at the least) then he needs to be recording so that there is no misunderstanding later, like what happened here. Heck, he should have been recording just in case the suspect talked and made incriminating statements about the allegedly threatening phone call that he was ostensibly investigating. And Officer Keller should have realized all of this before he knocked. Then again, maybe he did record, but decided to destroy the recording later — we, the public, have no way of knowing that. What is clear is that the dashcam of one of the police cars caught a part of the arrest of one of the plaintiffs and the court in this case did dismiss the excessive force claims based on that part of the arrest because that video showed acceptable police behavior. So, there is the incentive for police to record as they should.