Last week San Jose resident Danielle Harmon filed a Civil Rights lawsuit against the Santa Clara Police Department. She accuses police of forcing their way into her house without a warrant on April 12 and breaking her leg in the course of arresting Harmon’s daughter in connection with an April 4 fire at Santa Clara High School.
According to the complaint, the incident followed a week-long series of phone and personal exchanges between the San Jose resident, her attorney and the SCPD, starting the day of the school fire.
Harmon’s complaint alleges that the police accused her daughter of setting the fire; after which Harmon informed the police that there would be no further communications without an attorney. The following day, according to the complaint, Harmon called the PD and was told there was no warrant for her daughter’s arrest.
Later that day when Harmon was out driving, looking for her daughter “she noticed a police car …[that] appeared to be following her,” the complaint continues. When she pulled into a parking lot, two officers pulled up and “demanded to know” where her daughter was. Harmon replied she didn’t know. The officer said “in an angry tone” if he saw the girl, he would arrest her.
The police subsequently spoke several times with the family’s attorney, Brendan Barrett, about the fire, the complaint goes on. Barrett told police they didn’t have probable cause for an arrest and the teenager wasn’t going to surrender herself at that time.
The complaint alleges that on April 12, the officer in charge of the investigation told SCPD’s “Special Enforcement Team” (SET) that Harmon was “uncooperative, adversarial, and confrontational” and directed the SET to arrest Harmon’s daughter “without a warrant – and to do so forcefully should [Harmon] continue to assert her and her daughter’s constitutional rights.”
The police arrived at Harmon’s house, the account continues, “moments later and began to pound on [her] door demanding to be let in.” When she asked to see a warrant, the officer said they didn’t have one. “Then you are not coming into my house,” Harmon said. The officer allegedly replied, “you either let us in or we break down the door.”
While the police went around to the backyard, Harmon called Barrett. She told police that her attorney advised her that they couldn’t enter the house without a warrant. According to the complaint an officer replied, “‘Tell him it’s fresh pursuit,’ which the attorney heard him say because the phone was on speakerphone.” (‘Fresh pursuit’ means the police are in an immediate chase, and, thus, can arrest a suspect without a warrant.)
The police then kicked the door in, the complaint says, grabbed Harmon “and very forcefully threw her through her doorway, slamming her into a rock and mortar outcropping on her porch, and shattering both the rock and [her] left leg. [Harmon] never threatened officers” and they “had no justification to use any force.”
When Harmon tried to go back in the house, the officers handcuffed her and searched her pockets. The police arrested Harmon’s daughter and released Harmon, sending her to the hospital.
As of press time, the City hadn’t filed a reply to the complaint. Santa Clara Police PIO Dan Moreno said that the PD couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
Earlier this year, Santa Clara settled a 2014 civil rights lawsuit brought by a Muslim Dept. of Homeland border patrol officer, paying $500,000 in damages and legal fees. The man alleges that Santa Clara police arrested him and ransacked his home without cause, were violent and abusive to him and his parents, and damaged his career. The cause was a dashboard camera missing from a car driven by the man’s uncle, an Uber driver.
Few Statistics About Police Use of Force
Despite the fact that use of force by law enforcement has been widely discussed for the last 40 years or so, there is little hard data about it that’s current. The Department of Justice’s 2008 National Survey of Contacts between the Police and the Public found that 1.4 percent of those who had had contact with the police said that police used, or threatened to use, force against them. That was last year the DoJ collected these statistics, even though the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act requires the U.S. Attorney General to collect and publish information about excessive use of force by law enforcement.
In 2009, former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) proposed a National Criminal Justice Commission to collect and study statistics about criminal justice in the U.S. This was blocked by a Republican filibuster from ever reaching a vote, although the bipartisan measure was supported by a wide variety of law enforcement organizations.
President Barack Obama launched the White House’s Police Data Initiative in 2015, which created the Public Safety Open Data Portal (publicsafetydataportal.org), providing real-time visibility of public safety statistics. Currently, 56 agencies are participating.
New state laws will require California law enforcement agencies to collect more information starting in 2017.
One new technology, body-worn cameras, shows promise for not only shedding light on police use of force, but also for reducing the chance of force being used.
A study published in the September 2015 Journal of Quantitative Criminology found that 12 months after the Rialto, Calif. police began using body cameras, the number of incidents involving police use of force dropped by 50 percent and complaints about excessive force declined by 90 percent, compared with a control group. The authors suggest that it’s not just law enforcement officers whose conduct may be influenced by the cameras. The recordings may also make members of the public more careful about their conduct, as well.
Santa Clara PD is currently implementing a body camera program.