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DEA agents terrorized the wrong family, including children, after license plate mix-up

Thursday, June 21, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: DEA, raids, mistakes

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(NaturalNews) Not that it happens often, but when police and federal agents screw up, they sure seem to do it right.

The agency could be held liable for a botched raid during the early morning hour in 2007, when agents burst into a mobile home in Seely, Calif., guns drawn, after mixing up a suspected drug dealer's license plate.

According to reports, agents smashed their way in, terrorizing Thomas and Rosalie Avina and their two daughters, ages 11 and 14, who lived there.

In a federal lawsuit, the Avinas say agents used a battering ram to break down the door and rush inside (pretty standard procedure), then placed the entire family in handcuffs as they shouted profanities and pointed weapons at the heads of their two daughters.

Court: You have no rights as an adult to claim harm by federal agents

Initially, a federal judge in San Diego backed the DEA agents (surprised?), saying they acted reasonably, despite agents' admissions they copied down the wrong license plate number (a ruling that, perhaps, might be a little different had agents burst headlong and armed into the judge's house by mistake).

On appeal to a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court, judges agreed treatment of the adults was proper and justified but they balked over the treatment of the two daughters. In doing so the panel unanimously reversed the summary judgment in the government's favor for the daughters, though they affirmed the lower court's ruling pertaining to the two adult parents.

"A jury could find that the agents pointed their guns at the head of an eleven-year-old girl, 'like they were going to shoot [her],' while she lay on the floor in handcuffs, and that it was excessive for them to do so," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the court.

"Similarly, a jury could find that the agents' decision to force the two girls to lie face down on the floor with their hands cuffed behind their backs was unreasonable," he added. "Under our case law, an issue of material fact exists as to whether the actions of the agents were excessive in light of the ages of" the two daughters "and the limited threat they posed."

Age limit for justice

The appeals panel decision essentially reinstates the portion of the Avina's lawsuit that applies to their daughters. Well, that's something.

The Avinas sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which generally makes the federal government liable for actions of its officers and agents. But you have to get a federal judge to agree. Apparently there is an age limit on justice in the 9th Circuit Court, only the most overturned of all the federal court districts.

"It was another bruising year for the liberal judges of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as the Supreme Court overturned the majority of their decisions, at times sharply criticizing their legal reasoning," the Los Angeles Times led with in a July 2011 story about the court.

"The Supreme Court reversed or vacated 19 of the 26 decisions it looked at from the 9th Circuit this judicial term, issuing especially pointed critiques of the court's handling of cases involving prisoners' rights and death row reprieves," the report said, noting that even the Supreme Courts liberal justices joined conservative members in overturning 12 of the 9th Circuit's cases.

As for these DEA agents, well, given the recent changes to Indiana law that allows homeowners to shoot at anyone, including police, who enter their homes illegally, they'd better make sure they get it right in the Hoosier State.

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