Over the Top: Cops Raid Two Homes Near Suspect They Already Had in Custody

Victoria Prieskop | Courthouse News Service

ALBUQUERQUE (CN) — Though sheriff’s officers in Albuquerque had had the man they wanted in custody for hours, they made a “military style assault” on two houses with two SWAT teams and an armored car “with a gunner manning a turret,” a disabled black man claims in court.

Donald Rhodes, 57, sued Bernalillo County, four of its sheriff’s officers and a reserve deputy on Wednesday in Bernalillo County Court. Albuquerque is the county seat.

Rhodes, who is disabled with a back injury and nerve palsy, says the sheriff used absurdly overaggressive tactics to execute a search warrant related to a man they already had arrested, because the houses are in a predominantly black neighborhood.

Rhodes, who works part-time when he can as a handyman, says he was caught up in the raid and injured as he helped his “bedridden, elderly neighbor” fix a faulty electrical outlet.

The sheriff and police were looking for Haskell Lewis on drug charges, Rhodes says in the complaint, and Lewis was “sometimes associated” with Rhodes’s neighbor’s house, and the house next door.

“Deputies had taken Mr. Lewis — the entire reason for their search — into custody a few hours before the raid began,” according to the complaint.

Even so, BCSO “evidently felt justified in attacking the properties as if they housed enemy combatants, in order to execute a simple search warrant.”

With Lewis in custody, the sheriff dispatched two SWAT teams and a bearcat vehicle “complete with a gunner manning a turret,” which “disgorge(ed) officers in SWAT gear” who shot flashbang devices in a “military-style assault on the home” as Rhodes helped out his neighbor.

The raid on the two adjacent houses revealed that “one house was completely empty, while the other was inhabited by one bedridden woman in her mid-eighties, a little boy of age seven or eight, and Mr. Rhodes.”

Neither house contained any guns or drugs, Rhodes says.

He says the sergeant who led the assault tried to justify it by citing a “the ‘large presence of Bloods street gang members in the neighborhood.'”

Rhodes calls that an “insulting” stereotype, “because this neighborhood is similar to several neighborhoods in Albuquerque, but it is one of the only, if not the only, neighborhood in Albuquerque with a high concentration of African-Americans.”

“None of the [police] reports mention a single gang member either loitering in the area or running away from it,” according to the complaint. “One middle-aged woman was evidently in a car outside the house, talking on a cell-phone, but this is hardly the flood of gang members and drug addicts described in the reports and warrant application.”

Rhodes says he complied with all the officers’ orders but was arrested and handcuffed though he had an obvious wrist injury and was wearing a brace to protect the joint.

He says he was denied medical care though his blood pressure rose to 207/122 before he was sent to the emergency room for care. He has had lingering symptoms and complications from the physical and emotional stress of the raid and is receiving treatment to manage anxiety.

He seeks compensatory and punitive damages for excessive force, unreasonable seizure, false imprisonment, conspiracy municipal liability, assault and battery, negligence, and ADA violations.

He is represented by Leon Howard with Lucero & Howard.

Neither his attorneys nor a sheriff’s spokesman could be reached for comment after business hours Thursday.

Published by Courthouse News Service.