Deputies in a Texas county have settled a lawsuit brought against them for injuring a man who refused them permission for a warrantless search of his home after he told the officers the person they sought wasn’t there.
The deputies didn’t believe the homeowner, Huntly Dantzler, but it turned out he was right.
Before they discovered Dantzler was telling the truth, however, they handcuffed him, threw him to the ground and arrested for him refusing to give consent. The officers then coerced his wife, Susan Dantzler, to allow one of them to conduct the warrantless search.
After a judge ruled that at least some of the couple’s claims were valid and would require a trial, the deputies agreed to a settlement, the terms of which were not disclosed.
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Earlier, a ruling from U.S. District Judge David Ezra left charges standing against the officers.
The case developed in Gillespie County, when Deputy Sgt. Joe Hindman and Deputy Hunter Westbrook pounded on the couple’s door at 6:35 one morning.
They wanted to see the Dantzler’s son, who wasn’t there.
After the officers handcuffed and threw Huntly Dantzler to the ground, his wife, “alarmed by the treatment of her husband and the inherent coercion,” granted permission for one officer to enter, stating it was against her will.
The officers were looking for a woman who, according to an anonymous source, might be with the Dantzlers’ son and might be in danger.
The son wasn’t in the home, nor was the woman, and the Dantzlers told the officers that.
The search was prompted by an anonymous caller who claimed to have seen the Dantzlers’ son, Huntly Dantzler Jr., drinking with a woman in a Fredericksburg, Texas, bar.
The unknown person claimed the son put pills into the woman’s drink and she was highly intoxicated.
However, there was no evidence of that, nor was the caller identified.
The court threw out some of the couple’s allegations but left a significant number standing, ruling the “officers’ actions … were based on inaccurate information from an anonymous source and violated the Dentzlers’ clearly established constitutional rights.”
Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which handled the case, said there are those “who insist that if you’ve done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide, you should submit to police demands to search your person and your home, whether or not those orders are lawful.”
“What makes this case so striking is the contrast between American citizens who not only know their rights but are exercising them and government officials – in this case, the police – who are either completely ignorant of what the law requires (namely, a search warrant and probable cause) or who don’t believe the laws of the land, namely the Fourth Amendment, apply to them,” he said.
The judge found that the officers detained Huntly Dantzler Sr. without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and the deputies are not entitled to qualified immunity.