Appeals Court Affirms $1.25M Verdict Against Arizona Sheriff For Raiding Wrong Home


A federal appeals court has upheld a jury’s decision to award a Tucson couple more than $1 million in damages after they were wrongfully detained by sheriff’s deputies during a raid executed after a fake 911 call.

In April 2016, a U.S. District Court jury ordered the Pima County Sheriff’s Department to pay Rob and Jill Larson $1.25 million in damages and more than $200,000 in attorney’s fees after deciding deputies violated the couple’s constitutional rights, according to Arizona Daily Star archives.

The Pima County Attorney’s Office appealed the judgment on behalf of the Sheriff’s Department, which didn’t contest that deputies violated the couple’s rights, according to court documents.

The panel ruled the District Court made no errors in the case and affirmed the jury’s ruling.

The lawsuit stemmed from a May 23, 2013, incident in which the Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call from a person reporting an altercation with gunfire across the street from his house, according to Star archives.

The Larsons were awakened by deputies “banging and screaming” at the door, and when they answered, the two were placed in handcuffs and escorted to a squad car outside the home.

Deputies began searching the home but stopped after the 911 caller approached a deputy to say they had the wrong home. The deputies moved to a nearby home, but the Larsons were detained during the search.

With nothing of evidentiary value found in the second home, the raid was halted when deputies searched a database of 911 calls and discovered the caller had previously made multiple false reports and had numerous other law enforcement contacts.

Two weeks before the raid, the caller, identified as William Warfe Jr., had been taken by deputies to a mental health crisis center and had dealt with law enforcement numerous times regarding baseless 911 calls, according to court documents.

The manager of the trailer park where Warfe lived spoke to deputies several days later, saying Warfe was “terrorizing the trailer park,” court documents show.

The deputy who responded made a note in her report and told the oncoming shift she was working with the Community Response Center to try to get Warfe hospitalized. All of the department’s encounters with Warfe were entered into the department database.

At trial, the Larson’s were able to prove that general practice for the Sheriff’s Department is to check the database of 911 callers’ previous calls on the way to a potential crime scene and that despite the fact that at least two sergeants rode together to the Larson home, no check was made, according to the appellate court memo.

“We’re in the process of trying to digest what steps we need to take and should be taking as far as evaluating the court decision,” said sheriff’s Corrections Chief Byron Gwaltney. “Obviously we’re disappointed in the outcome of the court decision. We went into the process with a strong belief that our deputies on that night were acting within what we believe to be the emergency exception to a warrant requirement.”

Department officials are coordinating with its training staff and the County Attorney’s Office to decide how deputies should proceed in these types of situations, in which there’s a strong belief that a person or persons could be in serious danger, Gwaltney said.

On the night in question, deputies believed they were going into domestic violence situation involving gunfire.

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