Members of the Mitchell family said they had done nothing wrong when Henderson police broke into their two homes without warrants, according to a federal lawsuit.
The family on July 10, 2011, had refused to let SWAT officers use their homes to perform surveillance in what authorities suspected was an ongoing domestic violence incident involving a neighbor.
Officers then manhandled Linda Mitchell and arrested her husband, Michael Mitchell, and her son, Anthony Mitchell, charging them with obstructing a police officer, family members allege.
Police also shot Anthony Mitchell and the family’s dog, Sam, with a “pepperball gun,” similar to a paint ball gun that holds pepper spray.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this week in U.S. District Court, said the Mitchells’ constitutional rights were violated, including their Third Amendment right that prohibits soldiers from quartering in a home without the homeowner’s consent.
Police had gone to the 300 block of Evening Side Avenue, near Horizon Ridge Parkway and the Las Vegas Beltway, for an alleged domestic violence incident at Phillip White Jr.’s home, according to a media report at the time and the lawsuit.
White was believed to have barricaded himself and a child inside his home at 363 Evening Side.
SWAT officers closed all entrances and exits to the neighborhood. The standoff lasted hours.
Police began to call people in their homes.
About 10:45 a.m. they contacted Anthony Mitchell, who lived two homes away from White, at 367 Evening Side.
According to the lawsuit, Henderson police officer Christopher Worley told him police needed to “occupy his home in order to gain a ‘tactical advantage’ against the occupant of the neighboring house.”
Anthony Mitchell said that he didn’t want to be involved and he didn’t want police in his home.
Officers began banging on his door and demanded they be let inside. He called his mother who lived across the street at 362 Evening Side.
Police soon broke down the front door, aimed guns and cursed at Anthony Mitchell.
Terrified and confused, he dropped to the floor, covered his face with his hands and made no movement, according to the lawsuit.
Officer David Cawthorn then fired multiple shots with the pepperball gun, striking Anthony Mitchell three times as he “lay defenseless on the floor of his living room,” the lawsuit said . He was then handcuffed and taken to jail.
The lawsuit said police also shot his “cowering dog” with a pepperball gun. The dog fled out an open door and was left trapped outside without water, food or shelter for most of that July day.
At the same time, police were also contacting Michael and Linda Mitchell, who lived directly across the street from the subject of the alleged domestic violence incident.
Police asked Michael Mitchell to come to their command post to see whether he could help talk Phillip White into surrendering.
Michael Mitchell was told White wasn’t taking any calls and was told he could not return to his home.
After twice attempting to leave the neighborhood, he too was arrested.
About 1:45 p.m. police banged on Linda Mitchell’s door. She told officers they could not enter without a warrant. They did so anyway, according to the lawsuit.
One officer grabbed her arm and forced the physically frail woman with difficulty breathing from her home, the lawsuit said.
Minus having warrants, police occupied both homes and rummaged through the Mitchells’ belongings, including opening cabinets and using a water dispenser, according to the lawsuit.
Anthony Mitchell and his father were jailed for about nine hours at the Henderson Detention Center before they were bailed out.
Both cases were dismissed with prejudice, meaning the case was forever closed, according to Henderson Municipal Court records.
The federal lawsuit names five Henderson police officers, the city of Henderson and its then-Police Chief Jutta Chambers, as well as unnamed North Las Vegas police officers and their chief, who assisted in the case.
Henderson police spokesman Keith Paul said the department does not comment on pending lawsuits.
The Mitchells’ lawyer, Frank Cofer, said police had plenty of time to get a warrant as the standoff lasted hours but did not.
Cofer declined to discuss specific details of the civil complaint, but noted the unusual legal tactic of citing a violation of his clients’ Third Amendment rights considering that Henderson police are not a military force.
The lawyer said that police forces throughout the country, including local law enforcement, are employing military weapons and tactics and the facts of the Mitchells’ case shows the spirit of the Third Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was violated.
“Ultimately, we want the case to go to a jury. That’s the type of vindication the Mitchell family wants,” Cofer said.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages but does not state a specific amount of money.
“We definitely intend to see that the Mitchell family gets justice for the pain and humiliation they suffered,” Cofer said.
Meanwhile White, the man at the center of the reported domestic violence incident that sparked the standoff with police, was arrested on one count each of domestic battery-first offense and coercion.
Attempts to contact White on Friday were unsuccessful.
However, Henderson Municipal Court records show that on Nov. 1, 2011, both charges against White were dismissed with prejudice and that the case was closed.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.