Pubdate: Tue, 21 Sep 2010
Source: Columbia Missourian (MO)
Copyright: 2010 Columbia Missourian
Author: Waqas Naeem


Child, Wife Subjects Of Several Claims

COLUMBIA -- A Columbia Police Department SWAT raid that happened in
February has prompted a lawsuit against the city of Columbia by the
family targeted in the raid.

The lawsuit was filed before noon on Monday in the U.S. Western
District Court by attorneys Milt Harper and Jeff Hilbrenner, who
represent the family. Three plaintiffs, Jonathan Whitworth, Brittany
Whitworth and Brittany Whitworth's 7-year-old son, all of whom were
present at the house during the raid, have been listed.

Attorney Milt Harper said the lawsuit charges that the Columbia Police
Department violated the Whitworths' constitutional rights, damaged
their house with bullet holes, killed one dog and injured another. He
said the dog that was injured had to receive emergency treatment
costing $2,000.

The lawsuit lists the city of Columbia, 12 police officers who were
present at the scene and "other, unknown police officer(s)" as defendants.

The constitutional issues involved are the reason for filing in
federal court, Harper said. He said the Whitworths appreciate some of
the changes that have occurred in Columbia Police Department
procedures since the SWAT raid and hope the lawsuit will lead to more.

Harper said the family has waited this long for the lawsuit because it
wanted to give the matter plenty of thought and because the
7-year-old, identified in the lawsuit only as "P.M.," has been in
counseling since the incident.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the
defendants, as well as court costs and attorney fees. It argues the
raid caused severe emotional distress to both the child and to
Brittany Whitworth, and makes separate claims for them based on
unlawful seizure by detention, unreasonable search, false arrest and
false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and
negligent supervision of SWAT officers. It also alleges assault and
battery against Jonathan Whitworth and says the entire family
sustained property damage.

The narrative in the lawsuit says the raid unfolded quickly. P.M. was
in his bed with his mother, who was reading him to sleep, when a
police officer fired the first shot from a 9 mm submachine gun before
the SWAT team entered the home.

Once in the house, the defendant officers immediately shot a family
pet dog, Nala, without any reasonable cause, according to the lawsuit.
As the dog ran away, the officers pursued it from the front door into
the kitchen, firing their assault weapons at the dog, until it died. A
second dog, a corgi named Bruno, was wounded by the shots.

While inside the house, police fired at least seven high-power
projectiles and bullets -- including three from MP5 submachine guns
and three from a handgun -- that caused property damage, the lawsuit

The lawsuit reads that P.M. and his mother were asked to sit down at
gun point in the front entryway of their home, in complete view of the
killed dog. Brittany Whitworth and P.M. were also kept in police
custody for two hours, the lawsuit read.

The lawsuit further reads that the defendants unreasonably seized
P.M., caused injury, damage to his emotional well-being and mental
anguish that has required medical treatment. The lawsuit alleges that
happened despite an advance "tactical entry plan" that noted a child
could be in the home.

The plaintiffs are seeking judgment against each defendant for medical
and veterinary bills for the surviving dog, general damages for the
value of the dog that was shot, and damages for destruction and injury
to the plaintiffs' home and personal property.

The plaintiffs also seek punitive damages. "Their (the defendant
officers) conduct warrants an award of punitive damages to punish them
and to deter them and others from acting in a like manner in the
future," according to the lawsuit.

Police have said they conducted the February raid based on evidence
that Jonathan Whitworth was dealing large amounts of marijuana. Their
search on that day, however, found a marijuana pipe but no drugs. A
video of the raid found its way to YouTube and received about 1.5
million views.

Police Chief Ken Burton has since backed up the actions of his
officers on that night, but tightened up department policies on SWAT
raids. The city's Citizen Police Review Board, after a complaint from
California activists for marijuana reform, also found no misconduct on
the part of the officers.

The California activists have since appealed the board's decision to
City Manager Bill Watkins, and a coalition of Columbia residents has
filed a separate complaint with the review board.

You can read the full lawsuit at

Neither Burton nor Deputy Police Chief Tom Dresner could be reached
for comment. Jonathan Whitworth, reached by phone, referred all
questions to his attorneys.  
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