No Qualified Immunity for SWAT Raid

by | February 27, 2024

Anglemeyer v. Ammons, 2024 WL 464016 (3rd Cir. 2024)

Mark Anglemeyer was suspected of making a drug sale in a garage located on his parents’ property, which included a home and several other buildings. Investigators obtained a search warrant for the entire 60-acre property and all buildings thereon. The investigators turned over execution of the search warrant to a SWAT team. None of the SWAT team members had been involved in the investigation.

Approximately 50 SWAT team members served a no-knock warrant before dawn, with 19 team members assigned to enter the residence. Richard Anglemeyer, Mark’s 77-year-old father, was awakened by a dog growling and heard the commotion of the SWAT team members approaching the residence. A team member broke through the door as Richard was about to open it and look outside. The SWAT operator struck Richard on the head, grabbed his neck and forced him to the ground. The fall caused Richard to hit his head on the fireplace, knocking him out. Richard suffered multiple contusions and facial abrasions and tore the menisci in his right knee, which required surgery.

Richard’s wife, 76-year-old Ada Anglemeyer, awoke in her first-floor bedroom after hearing a loud noise as the SWAT team entered. As Ada stepped outside her bedroom wearing a night gown, an officer struck her in the face with his shield, knocking her backwards. She fell on her back and broke multiple teeth and one vertebra, which required long-term treatment. Ada testified the officers did not announce themselves and that she did not hear any officer give instructions or warnings before striking her with the ballistic shield.

Two of their sons were also forcefully knocked to the floor, slapped or stepped on, and suffered multiple injuries. None of the four injured family members were suspected of any wrongdoing. They sued the officers for excessive use of force. A trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the officers, ruling they were entitled to qualified immunity.

The court held the officers’ conduct was objectively unreasonable and that any reasonable officer would have known of the illegality of their conduct.

The appellate court reversed the grant of qualified immunity. The court held the officers’ conduct was objectively unreasonable and that any reasonable officer would have known of the illegality of their conduct. The court observed the officers had used substantial force against persons who were unarmed, cooperative, significantly outnumbered by officers and asleep in their own home, and none of whom were suspected of any crime or subject to arrest. The court held the right to be free from such excessive force was clearly established at the time of the officers’ conduct.

The record is silent as to whether the one person suspected of selling drugs in a detached garage (there was no evidence of any drug sales in the house) on the property was present at the time of the raid. It seems not. Because the court decision is a ruling on summary judgment, both the trial and the appellate courts were obliged to accept the plaintiffs’ versions of the facts. At trial, there may well be numerous explanations for the actions that caused the serious injuries of the elderly couple and their sons.

The trial court noted that records showed some of the home residents owned firearms, and that Mark Anglemeyer had a record of resisting arrest and flight from officers. His brother, Jeffrey Anglemeyer, had a criminal record that included drug sales, firearms violations, assault, resisting arrest and strangulation. The trial court was sympathetic to the officer who knocked the 76-year-old woman to the ground, noting the officer had to look through a porthole in his shield and could not tell whether she was someone expected to be in the residence.

No doubt, hindsight in this case is indeed 20-20. But that’s not the standard established in Graham v. Connor. Even so, the case gives pause to tactical operators and suggests rigorous questioning of the investigators who conducted the investigation and prepared the warrant.

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

More Posts
Share this post:

The Briefing – Your source for the latest blog articles, leadership resources and more