It was a police raid John Oliver called “almost cartoonishly idiotic.” Looking to apprehend a violent drug dealer at his home in McDonough, Georgia, more than two dozen officers executed a no-knock warrant in February 2018. Smashing the door open with a battering ram, before tossing a flash grenade inside, officers stormed in with guns drawn, and quickly subdued the home’s lone resident, forcing him down on the ground.
But it wasn’t their man—police raided the wrong house. Instead, officers had just handcuffed Onree Norris, then a 78-year-old grandfather with heart trouble. At the time, Norris was simply watching TV in his bedroom when he heard a “thunderous sound:” Members from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team had just knocked down all three doors to his house. When Norris moved into his hallway, he was greeted by multiple officers “wearing military style gear pointing assault rifles at him,” who threw him to the floor.
Until that day when police mistakenly broke down the doors to his house, Norris never had any trouble with the law. But since his next-door neighbor turned out to be a drug dealer, Norris was effectively punished for the police’s mistakes.
Yet back in 2016, the Eleventh Circuit did deny qualified immunity to a law enforcement officer who was accused of “unlawfully seizing and detaining [the residents] at gunpoint” after he “had entered their home by mistake; he was supposed to execute a search warrant two doors down.” In that decision, the court ruled that the officer violated “clearly established constitutional rights” by failing “to engage in reasonable efforts to avoid erroneously executing the search warrant.”
Unfortunately for Norris, that 2016 decision was unpublished, meaning it's not technically binding, and in the Eleventh Circuit, “we look only to binding precedent to determine clearly established law.” Adding to the Kafkaesque absurdity, the ruling against Norris is also unpublished, meaning that in the Eleventh Circuit, it’s still not “clearly established” that raiding the wrong home at gunpoint is unconstitutional.
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