Oregon SWAT Raid Victims to File Suit 5/9/03

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A testosterone-driven, pre-dawn paramilitary raid by Oregon law enforcement officers looking for a marijuana grow operation in a Eugene neighborhood last October will result in a federal lawsuit against participating agencies, according to the raid's victims and their attorneys.

The raid involved some 59 heavily-armed police officers from the Oregon State Police, the Lane County Sheriff's Department, the Eugene Police Department, the Springfield Police Department, the Portland Police Bureau, and the Oregon National Guard, who swarmed into Eugene's Whiteaker neighborhood accompanied by a tank-like National Guard Light Armored Vehicle. Throwing flash-bang grenades that shook the windows in neighboring houses and kicking down doors, the marauders broke into three homes, detaining two couples. Marcella Monroe and Tam Davage and Elizabeth Redetzke and Jor Havens were dragged naked from their beds by masked and armored police, then held for hours as police ransacked their homes. Police placed a black hood over Monroe's head until she agreed to cooperate. No evidence of a marijuana grow operation was found, but that didn't stop police from arresting all four and threatening to seize their homes. State prosecutors eventually dropped all charges.

According to one neighbor, a public school teacher, who was walking to her car to go to work that

A testosterone-driven, pre-dawn paramilitary raid by Oregon law enforcement officers looking for a marijuana grow operation in a Eugene neighborhood last October will result in a federal lawsuit against participating agencies, according to the raid's victims and their attorneys.

The raid involved some 59 heavily-armed police officers from the Oregon State Police, the Lane County Sheriff's Department, the Eugene Police Department, the Springfield Police Department, the Portland Police Bureau, and the Oregon National Guard, who swarmed into Eugene's Whiteaker neighborhood accompanied by a tank-like National Guard Light Armored Vehicle. Throwing flash-bang grenades that shook the windows in neighboring houses and kicking down doors, the marauders broke into three homes, detaining two couples. Marcella Monroe and Tam Davage and Elizabeth Redetzke and Jor Havens were dragged naked from their beds by masked and armored police, then held for hours as police ransacked their homes. Police placed a black hood over Monroe's head until she agreed to cooperate. No evidence of a marijuana grow operation was found, but that didn't stop police from arresting all four and threatening to seize their homes. State prosecutors eventually dropped all charges.

According to one neighbor, a public school teacher, who was walking to her car to go to work that morning, "We opened the front door to find a swath of police officers, a huge armored personnel carrier, and several men in camouflage lurking around the shrubbery with assault rifles." Gesturing toward one of the machine-gun-toting lawmen standing between her and her car, the teacher said, "I just want to make sure I'm not going to be shot leaving the house."

"I haven't shot anyone in two weeks," was the officer's response, according to the teacher.

"They came in here and scared everyone to death," Monroe told the Eugene Register-Guard a few weeks after the ordeal. "They trashed our houses and accused us of a crime that they have no evidence for. They found no seeds, no pot, not one single plant -- nothing."

Monroe and Davage, a well-liked couple who owned all three houses, quickly drew support from neighbors. The Whiteaker Community Council denounced the raid and demanded that the Eugene Police Commission investigate the incident. "It was completely inappropriate to have that kind of militaristic action there," said council president Majeska Seese-Green. "We don't want it to happen in Whiteaker again, or any other neighborhood," she told the Register-Guard.

Now the four raid victims and their attorneys are acting to ensure that it doesn't. Attorneys Ben Rosenfeld and Lauren Regan officially notified Eugene's insurance agency on April 11 that they will file suit in federal court to rein in over-agressive police practices. "The police clearly violated the 4th Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable search and false arrest," said Rosenfeld in an April 30 statement. "We intend to hold these police officers accountable, lest we allow them to further erode fundamental Constitutional rights, and put this community in jeopardy of serious physical injury at the hands of law enforcement."

"Either the police just really screwed up, or they should have done far more investigation before entering a residential neighborhood in this manner," Regan said. "Before you drive a tank up to someone's house with 50 SWAT officers brandishing automatic assault weapons, you should be darn certain that you've got very dangerous pot growers in that house, and should be equally certain there is not a safer way to conduct such a raid. This, and other recent SWAT incidents, illustrate a total disregard for community safety where police are endangering the lives and safety of the neighborhood residents."

Law enforcement spokesmen attempted to defend the raid, claiming the Whiteaker raid was not much different from other drug raids except in magnitude. "Society at large wants us to do this, and the community at large wants us to do this," Lieutenant Lee Thoming of the Interagency Narcotics Task Force told the Register Guard.

"This type of raid is contrary to the way our community wants the police to conduct themselves," countered Regan. "The deployment of SWAT units should be limited to extraordinary circumstances such as a hostage situation, a sniper, or a bomb threat. We hope that Eugene will follow in the paths of several other cities and reign in the abuses perpetuated by rogue police agencies."

The Whiteaker Community Council agreed. "We all need to learn more about the encroachment of paramilitarized policing in the United States, we need to watch law enforcement, we need to watch out for each others' civil rights, and we need to work for a genuinely independent police review board," said council head Seese-Green. "What is at stake is not only the livability of our city, but also -- potentially -- the very life of any one of us or our children."

As for Davage and Monroe, the raid has been a rude awakening. "There is a deep sense of betrayal and loss of trust," said Davage. "We believed that our police were supposed to protect our safety and our Constitutional rights. Instead they attacked us with machine guns without cause. They have destroyed my sense of security."

"How can we ever feel safe again? What is happening to our country?" asked Monroe.

Visit htttp://www.drcnet.org/wol/267.html#outofcontrol for our previous coverage of this story.

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