Third, with regard to the negligence claim, the only actions of the U.S. Park Police that breached a duty of care owed to plaintiffs are those three mentioned above: the second pat-down search of Michelle Cruz, the overnight detention of Justo Cruz, and the damage done to the Wrights' and Cruzes' personal property. See District of Columbia v. Evans, 644 A.2d 1008, 1021 (D.C. 1994) (police officers may be held liable for negligent handling of arrest situation). None of those actions, however, resulted in any significant or lasting harm. The physical and psychological discomfort experienced by Michelle Cruz, while being subjected in her bedroom to a quick pat-down search by a female officer, was fleeting and not overly intrusive. Therefore, her compensation will be minimal.
The claim asserted by Justo Cruz is somewhat more substantial. According to the testimony of Lieutenant Berberich, the senior ranking police officer, it was a "screw-up" for the desk clerk on duty to keep Cruz in jail overnight.
The evidence indicates that Cruz was unnecessarily subjected to eight hours of incarceration, when he should have been simply issued a citation and released. Accordingly, Cruz will be compensated for the damage to his liberty interest that was suffered during his overnight stay in jail. Lastly, with regard to the alleged property damage, the evidence indicates that the police officers acted negligently in the course of searching the house, opening drawers and closets, and removing and inspecting items of personal property. Therefore, the Wrights and Cruzes will be awarded compensatory damages for their property loss.
Finally, in order to prevail on their trespass claim, plaintiffs must prove (1) that a trespass to realty occurred, and (2) that such action was tortious or unauthorized. See Hammel v. Little, 66 App. D.C. 356, 87 F.2d 907, 912 (D.C. Cir. 1936). In Hammel, however, the Court held that where the intruder is an executive officer armed with a valid search warrant, that officer has legal authority to enter and search the premises. The presence of a warrant thus constitutes a complete defense to a suit for trespass. In this case, as stated above, although there were questions about the manner in which the U.S. Park Police obtained a search warrant, the warrant issued by Judge Queen was valid and enforceable. Accordingly, the claim for trespass will be dismissed.
The issue of calculating damages on the negligence claims will be held under advisement pending further briefing from the parties. Since the data on damages is best known to the Government, it will be directed to file a supplemental memorandum, describing any precedent -- administrative or judicial -- on which to base a determination of damages. Plaintiffs will be given an opportunity to respond.
Viewing the action of each officer in isolation, it is clear that no one of them acted unreasonably in the circumstances. Moreover, although the raid developed no evidence of drug sales or a multiplicity of weapons, the team recovered one lethal and illegal handgun in the possession of Cruz, who had used it that day to force Pinkney off the Kenyon Street premises. The sudden intrusion of a dozen heavily-armed police in black combat gear into a residence in the middle of the night is, for the occupants, a terrifying experience. It is an extreme use of government power, which must be carefully controlled, initially by police leadership, and where necessary by the courts at the warrant stage and ultimately in litigation.
On the other hand, the informant's report of an arsenal, and the police observation of Cruz holding a gun while removing Pinkney from the Kenyon Street premises fully justified the prompt deployment of overwhelming force to enter, search, disarm anyone with a weapon, and maintain control of the premises and its occupants until any weapons had been recovered and those in possession placed under arrest.
In hindsight, the police officers involved might have been more skeptical of Pinkney. They might have placed the premises under surveillance to arrest Cruz when he emerged. Indeed, there is a question of why if the officers in the van earlier in the day saw Cruz with a gun while holding Pinkney, they did not disarm and arrest Cruz at that time. They might have treated those plainly unarmed more gently. There is no suggestion, however, of improperly motivated police harassment, particularly in light of the constant danger confronted daily and, too often fatally, by police in the District of Columbia. The deployment of the force and its actions were not unreasonable within the meaning of the Constitution, nor have plaintiffs carried their burden of proving the violation of any professional standard of care, except with regard to the second pat-down of Michelle Cruz, the extended detention of Justo Cruz, and the property damage to the Wrights' and Cruzes' personality.
Date: April 15, 1997
Louis F. Oberdorfer
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
For the reasons stated in the accompanying Memorandum, it is this 15th day of April 1997 hereby
ORDERED: that the Government shall submit supplemental briefing on the issue of damages on or before April 29, 1997 ; and that plaintiffs may respond on or before May 7, 1997.
Louis F. Oberdorfer
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE