CA2: Police actions showed warrantless entry wasn’t for emergency purposes sufficient to create jury question

Decedent was a mentally ill veteran who accidentally activated an at home alarm and police responded. He was ultimately shot and police came in, not responding to a wounded man but as a criminal. There was a plausible claim that any alleged emergency was police created. Finally, the law was clearly established for qualified immunity purposes. Chamberlain v. City of White Plains, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 17229 (2d Cir. May 29, 2020):

And when, eventually, the officers entered Chamberlain’s apartment, they did so not with a gurney and paramedics, or other equipment or personnel related to a possible health emergency, but with a Taser, a beanbag shotgun, and handguns. Instead of treating Chamberlain as a critically ill patient, the officers acted as though he were a criminal suspect. See, e.g., Hopkins v. Bonvicino, 573 F.3d 752, 760, 764-66 (9th Cir. 2009) (denying summary judgment on unlawful entry claim where officers claimed medical emergency but, instead of exhibiting care and concern for the plaintiff upon entry, handcuffed him at gunpoint). These facts as alleged in the complaint and related documents, and viewed in the light most favorable to Appellant, give rise to the plausible inference that the officers knew that Chamberlain was not in need of urgent medical assistance but chose to enter his home anyway. Chase Grp. All. LLC, 620 F.3d at 150; see also Mincey, 437 U.S. at 392-93; Klump, 536 F.3d at 117.

The fact that Chamberlain was classified as an “emotionally disturbed person” does not alter this analysis. It was alleged, and is undisputed, that the officers were aware from the start of their encounter with Chamberlain that he had a history of mental illness. It is plausibly alleged that rather than serving as justification for forcing entry into his apartment, that knowledge would have led a reasonable, experienced officer to conclude that Chamberlain’s conduct—which eventually included incoherent statements and erratic behavior—was not symptomatic of a medical emergency but rather a long-standing psychiatric or emotional condition. See Klump, 536 F.3d at 117 (considering “the totality of the circumstances confronting law enforcement agents in the particular case” (internal citation omitted)). It seems to us that a reasonable officer likely would have known—or at least learned quickly during the course of the encounter—that the officer’s actions were exacerbating Chamberlain’s condition. Thus, on the facts alleged, the officers did not have probable cause to enter Chamberlain’s apartment merely based on his pre-existing medical or psychiatric condition of which they were aware. See Welsh, 446 U.S. at 749-50 (explaining the “heavy burden” that police bear “when attempting to demonstrate an urgent need that might justify warrantless searches”). Appellant thus plausibly alleged that the officers’ warrantless entry was not justified by a threat of immediate danger to Chamberlain.

Neither do the Amended Complaint and supplemental recordings suggest that the officers had a credible concern that Chamberlain posed a risk of harm to a third party. During the course of his lengthy standoff with the police, Chamberlain mentioned two women: Lynette and Loretta, but he also mentioned the President, Vice President, and Attorney General of the United States. Neither the Life Aid operator nor the officers on the scene asked Chamberlain whether another person was in his apartment. Under the facts as alleged, a reasonable experienced officer could have seen these one-off references as part of an unbalanced tirade by a highly agitated person with mental illness rather than a conversation with actual but unseen, unheard, and unknown persons in his presence. Thus, based on the allegations before the district court as augmented by the audio and video recordings, the officers’ warrantless entry cannot be justified on the ground that Chamberlain posed a risk of harm to a third party in his apartment.

To the extent any non-medical exigency existed during the entry, as noted repeatedly above, it is plausible that the officers themselves created it. “[I]n most circumstances, the exigent circumstances rule should not apply where the police, without a warrant or any legally sound basis for a warrantless entry, threaten that they will enter without permission unless admitted.” Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 462 n.4 (2011) (deciding on other grounds because no such threat was made). While officers may “knock on a door as any private citizen might” without a warrant, they “may not gain entry by actually violating or threatening to violate the Fourth Amendment.” United States v. Moreno, 701 F.3d 64, 73 (2d Cir. 2012); cf. United States v. Lucas, 462 F. App’x 48, 50 (2d Cir. 2012) (summary order) (noting that an officer did not “create the exigency” relied on to enter an apartment because he “made no threat to enter the apartment”). Here, as alleged and as reflected in the recordings, the police threatened and attempted objectionable conduct by insisting that if Chamberlain did not open his door, they would force entry. See, e.g., J. App’x 213 (Transcript of Clip 203) (“[T]hey’re gonna make entry anyway.”); id. at 219 (“You want me to break your door down is that what you want?”). As a result, any non-medical exigent circumstances may well have been of the officers’ own making, resulting from their direct threats to enter Chamberlain’s apartment forcibly, and not a permissible basis for entry.

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