SWAT v. The Fearful Old Lady

The rote recitations of excuses for the use of force usually fly because they have some connection to reality, at least for those inclined to believe whatever the police say.  But once in a while, the story crosses a line of absurdity that would make for a fabulous joke, if only it hadn’t actually happened.  It happened in Laguna Beach.

From the OC Weekly:

When Marilyn Injeyan–a 5-foot-3 and 125 pound, 71-year-old retired school teacher without a criminal record–opened her front door, officers donning ballistic vests and pointing flashlights and assault weapons stormed inside.

The SWAT Team was there. Hi, SWAT Team. What brings you to Ms. Injeyan’s home?

Acting on rumors in June 2011, a Laguna Beach Police Department SWAT team investigating a minor stink bomb attack in their city conducted a full-force raid on a Rowland Heights residence in Los Angeles County.

Rumors?  A “stink bomb”?  Come on, you were there to collect contributions for the widows and orphans fund, or maybe a charity beer bong party. Seriously.

But the heavily-armed [Sgt. Robert] Rahaeuser, who’d later claim he considered the unarmed, elderly woman a real threat to his safety, grabbed the lady’s arms, forced them behind her back and twisted them up while handcuffing her.

The sudden, unexpected force caused Injeyan to wet her pants and left her suffering large, torn rotator cuff injuries in both shoulders that required multiple, costly surgeries as well as extensive rehabilitation.

Because it was rumored that this 71-year-old former schoolmarm was the dreaded “stink bomber”?  You hurt this old woman?  This isn’t funny anymore.

To city and police officials in Laguna Beach, the SWAT raid on Injeyan was a “valid” tactic “in connection with the investigation of a domestic terrorism incident for which her son was a person of interest.” (According to court records, the son was never charged.)

Domestic terrorism?  So a stink bomb is now the weapon of choice for terrorists?

Police and city officials also argued that cops should enjoy immunity protections for their conduct because they have to make “split-second judgments” in potentially dangerous situations–like, they asserted, their contact Injeyan.

“[Rahaeuser] was unsure of what awaited him inside the plaintiff’s home, including who was present, or whether any of the occupants would be armed,” wrote Philip D. Kohn, a lawyer representing the City of Laguna Beach.

Armed?  With rumored stink bombs?  And this might harm the SWAT team by subjecting its brave and dedicated warriors to an unpleasant odor?  There is assuredly an unpleasant odor here.

Indeed, Kohn believes it is “irrelevant” whether Injeyan “posed some sort of threat” or not because cops conducing search warrants in present-day America don’t have to justify their decisions to use force.

This notion, that police no longer need to “justify” force in “present-day America,” is the sort of horribly misguided, terribly dangerous and legally fallacious assertion that will certainly bring the wrath of the law down upon the Laguna Beach Police.  As if the treatment of Ms. Injeyan wasn’t bad enough.

No doubt her suit against the cops for excessive force will result in a huge damage award in her favor.  Because this is America, and the police can’t do such things, and statements like this cannot go unpunished.

This week, U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell claimed she studied the case “in a light most favorable” to Injeyan but decided to grant pre-trial summary judgment for the police.

“The Court finds that [Laguna Beach police] enjoy immunity from the excessive force claims,” opined O’Connell, who also declared that cops have a “cloak of immunity” even when acting “maliciously and without probable cause.”

Say what?  Well, sure, some incompetent buffoon of a judge rubber stamped a warrant based on a rumor, because reading papers or thinking or actually doing the job he was paid to do is far too much work. But “maliciously”?  Since when are the police immune for malice?

O’Connell then made sure Injeyan won’t ever try to hold the police accountable again.

She ordered the woman to pay the defense legal bills or justify why she can’t.

You can’t make this shit up.  And no, the joke isn’t funny at all.

H/T Marilou Auer


12 comments on “SWAT v. The Fearful Old Lady

  1. Jesse

    Hopefully the appellate court will, in addition to reversal, order O’Connel to have to put her decision in a blender with sour milk and forced to drink it.

  2. Steven Warshawsky

    Qualified immunity is a fundamentally evil doctrine as it routinely is used to excuse wrong and abusive government conduct. So is the lack of respondeat superior liability under Section 1983. Congress could remedy these gross deficiencies in federal civil rights law but doesn’t because both parties have a vested interest in government immunity for police state tactics. That behind said, from your description this ruling strikes me as way out of bounds and likely to be reversed on appeal. I certainly hope so.

    1. SHG Post author

      Thank you for explaining the obvious, because without you explaining the obvious, no one would have a clue about the evil of qualified immunity.

      What makes me nuts, though, is when people write, “likely to be reversed on appeal.” Just like, “she’ll win a fortune,” and “just wait till she sues.” Is it that you can’t get your head out of the dream world where somehow everything eventually works out and life is wonderful? That’s the asinine attitude that lets things like this get out of hand in the first place. No, there is no wonderful place where everything will be magically fixed and everyone will be happy again so we don’t have to confront the wrong done in the first place.

      I don’t know if it will be reversed on appeal, because most cases aren’t and there is never a shortage of horrible appellate rulings. So, no. No. And stop pretending there is some happy place and add to people’s misery when it doesn’t happen. And if the best case scenario comes to pass, she gets reversal of summary judgment and spends the next few years in discovery before trial. Woo hoo!!!

      1. Steven Warshawsky

        At the risk of further offending you, for whatever reason, let me add a few additional comments. To begin with, my comment was no more “obvious” than the post itself. Your post was intended to elicit a strong reaction about an unjust legal ruling, and it did. Furthermore, my comment did what lawyers do every day, make predictions about how courts and juries (or in this case, an appellate court) will rule on a certain case. Perhaps I should have stated simply I “hope” the case is reversed on appeal, but it seems to me this is more of a “dream world” expression, not less. While we must be realistic about these things, unmitigated pessimism is not the only appropriate attitude. Not in every case. As for this poor woman’s case, it was dismissed on summary judgment, meaning that discovery has been completed and the case otherwise is ready for trial. If the decision is reversed, it will not be remanded for a few more years of discovery, but for pretrial proceedings and trial. According to PACER, it already is on appeal — in the Ninth Circuit, which improves her chances of success because civil rights case law in the Ninth Circuit is somewhat more favorable than in other circuits. She is facing an uphill battle, obviously, but if the case is as outrageous as it appears from your post, she has a fighting chance. If she wins her appeal, it is very likely (bordering on certainty) that the defendants will make her a meaningful settlement offer to avoid going to trial on a case with zero jury appeal. Duh. Perhaps they already have and her lawyers advised her to hold out for more money. Who knows? What we do know is that your predicted “best case scenario” is not correct. You are an expert in criminal law and an astute observer of the legal profession in general. You are not an expert in civil rights litigation.

        1. SHG Post author

          You’re right, I’m not an expert at civil rights litigation, and correcting me about discovery is a worthwhile point to be made.

          However, you miss a significant point. This is my soapbox, not yours. If I post something obvious, that’s my right. I pay the freight here. You, on the other hand, are a guest and have no right to use my soapbox to take up your cause. Had you posed your comment differently, by expressing your “hope” of reversal rather than asserting its likelihood, it would have been different. Had you bemoaned qualified immunity rather than pontificated about it, it would have been different. But you didn’t, and that’s the difference.

  3. Bruce Coulson

    There’s also the problem that even in a world where this egregious miscarriage of justice is reversed on appeal, the money won’t (and can’t) truly recompense this woman for the pain and suffering she’s already experienced. Nothing can give her back the time spent in the hospital, nor the time spent in rehabilitation. All a reversal might do is repay her for the money spent on medical bills.

    1. SHG Post author

      Or she won’t live long enough to get to the circuit. Or her lawyer is on contingent fee and can’t sink more free time into the case. Or the circuit affirms.

      But if everything goes fabulously, it will only mean the dismissal is reversed and the case is remanded for trial. Add another five years and see what happens.

      1. Ken Bellone

        That was the immediate thought that came to mind. She will continue to suffer considerable pain, a lesser quality of life and some level of disability. If, and when, her civil action winds its way through the system, what is money to an elderly woman, assuming she’s still alive by the time any funds are disbursed, compared to being healthy and left alone in peace? Only a fool hopes to suffer injury and indignity for some potential future payout. Tomorrow is promised to no one.

  4. bacchys

    I think “Fearsome” would work better in your title given the context of the post than “Fearful.” Though I don’t doubt she was full of fear that night, it was the terror she inspired in the poor, helpless SWAT officers that seems to be the main focus.

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