Mistaken Police Raids - What happens?

Just a couple of questions about police mistakes. All of this is to satsify my curiosity and none of it is in order for me to get advice:)
What happens when the police kick in your door, tear up your apartment and end up finding nothing?

What happens if you are a suspect in a crime and they get a warrant to search your house, rip everything up, and then a week later figure out that it was somebody else?

What happens if the police completely screw up and kick in your door at 92 Whatever St. when they meant to kick in the door at 95 Whatever St.?

I’m specifically wondering about how any and all damage gets handled. Are you just screwed? Do you clean it up? Do the police fix everything? Do the police just give you a check to cover the damages?

…and most importantly, does anyone have any cites for their opinions?

I know of two cases personally. In one, the police invaded the studio of a local artist, with helicopters, news teams with camera crews, etc. Someone had reported that his metal sculpture studio was a crack lab.

After they released him from jail, there was no apology, no nothing. They basically said “come and get your stuff” (they had taken various things, imagining it was evidence.)

The other one is going on right now, where they seized all the computers at a local education company. It’s been a month, and the victim is still waiting. No charges filed, but no computers.

Looks to me like there’s no system of checks and balances. If the police screw up, who gets punished? Doesn’t somebody get fired for incompetence? Or do we rely on lawsuits to punish offenses among the police? If this really is the true situation, what force stops them from getting even far worse than they are now?

My older brother had a friend who’s house was raided. This is just what I’ve heard now, but it seems that they can come in there, make a complete mess of your entire place (like every drawer in the house and everybook on the shelves on the floor for starters), take what they want, and then leave. Innocent or guilty, now or later, YOU clean it up and pay for damages. You’ll have a hell of a time getting evidence back even if it turns out to be useless to them.

Screw-ups?? Of course they happen, and supposedly there are inquiries and disciplinary actions taken, but I’d say it rarely happens and when it does it’s window-dressing for the most part. Not to be too negative, but there was a thread on an incident here where a cop mistakenly killed and innocent man, and as I remember, nothing at all happened to him; possibly the guy’s getting paid to be out on the street right now (hope I’m wrong about that one).

They are the ones with the guns, handcuffs, connections and contacts in the legal system, the ones given the benefit of the doubt 99.99999% of the time, the legal knowledge, and the 200 buddies who’ll back up every word each other says.

Granted, most of the time they are the good guys, and it’s only overall a few bad apples in the lot… but when you run across one you’ll most likely have to have a good lawyer and a lot of money or power to get fair treatment.

Those around Iowa City will remember the shooting of Eric Shaw about six years ago. A police officer, investigating an open door at Shaw’s studio, flinched and shot Shaw dead as Shaw was talking on his own telephone. The officer was allowed to resign. Shaw’s father was later charged with assault for pushing the police chief in a street confrontation, angry that no charges were filed against the police department for his son’s death. Linkety-link.

I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere that the police are required to put your property back the way they found it - if they break something, they have to get it fixed, etc, etc I think this applies whether they find anything or not.

Course, this is UK police I’m talking about…

If the police have a valid warrant, you have no recourse against them. As far as the law is concerned, they had probable cause to search. And here in the states, they do NOT have to put things back the way they found them.

And if they should mistakenly search the neighbours house instead, (misreading the address, a computer error or clerical error) IIRC, that is considered a ‘good faith’ error.

I believe Maryland V. Garrison is the relevant precedent, but I could be wrong.

Could it be because in the USA, apologizing or trying to make it up to you is seen as an admission of having done wrong, and thus leaving themselves open to suits and Civil Rights actions? (But anyway doesn’t sovereign immunity keep them from getting sued unless the government itself agrees?)

Oh, and if you are a victim of a “good faith mistake” and bother to write to to your state legislator, city councillor, or congressperson, unless s/he is some old-school lib lefty, you’re likely to get back a letter telling you in more or less polite terms to stop whining and be glad our boys in blue are being aggressive against the evil of crime/drugs/terror :wink:

Why I am reminded of what happened with Steve Jackson Games? (from: “The Hacker Crackdown” by Bruce Sterling, a public domain document of tremendous interest on many levels).

I think the notion is that police need to be able to do their jobs without getting sued if they screw-up in any way. They’re human and naturally mistakes are made. As long as the mistake was an ‘honest’ one then I don’t think the aggrieved party has any recourse. However, I would imagine that if they screwed up and searched the wrong house and caused actual damage that they should by rights pay for fixing what they did. Simply making a mess of your home doesn’t count however.

As to the guy who got shot by mistake that does seem pretty extreme (it doesn’t get too much more extreme). I can maybe see the cop just getting fired and not criminally prosecuted but can’t the police department be sued in civil court for wrongful death? Does soveriegn immunity extend to the police department? That may not be the justice of seeing the shooter go to jail but it should be at least some consolation/compensation to the family of the dead person.

This is how the police pressured a “head shop”(*) out of my college town a few years back. They would go in with a search warrant, then seize all the store’s merchandise, but charges were never filed against the store owners. Of course, it would take a long time before the process ran its course and the owners could get their merchandise back. Do this a couple times, and the store can’t afford to stay open.

*A head shop being a retailer that sells bongs, water pipes, bowls, and other assorted drug paraphernalia – under the paper-thin claim that they’re for legal uses only.


I read the whole link, but it deals with evidence found during a mistaken raid. I’m more concerned about damage the police may do during a raid where no evidence is found.

You don’t happen to have another case to throw at me, do you?

This man is suing over a mistaken raid.

There is at least one famous case in the United States in which police raided the wrong house, and, in the process, shot and killed the family dogs. The courts refused to grant damages for the dead dogs, finding that it was a reasonable mistake.

There was a case in Vancouver where the police got the adress wrong and raided the wrong house. What made it worse is that the resident had set up a paper target in his fireplace and was plinking at it with a BB gun. Perfectly legal, but when the police burst in the door they saw a man with a gun and shot him. And what made it even worse yet is that the man was the son of a local sports star. I don’t remember how it turned out though


You wouldn’t happen to have a link to the the famous case would you?

Or maybe some other details?

What happens? You might end up dead!

In the linked case, it seems to be less a mistake than a deliberate attempt to seize an estate. Short story (since it’s a long document): Sheriff’s Dept. sees a valuable piece of land. They obtain a warrant to look for drugs, using shaky (hear-say from an “informant”) evidence. They burst into the home while the occupants are in bed. Man does not hear them identify themselves because he was asleep. He wakes up and arms himself. Sheriff tells him to lower his gun. Man lowers his gun, but Sheriff thinks it’s an agressive move. Sheriff shoots man dead. No drugs found on property. Man’s wife sued and got a couple million dollars.

Civil rights suits under the 14th amendment are one of the few times that the federal government can abrogate state sovereign immunity. If you are the victim of a wrongful police raid, a civil rights suit may sometimes be your only recourse.