W.D.Tex.: Case on taking key from a child for police to enter house will go to a jury; no exigency, no QI

Using key obtained from a teenage daughter’s bra, in handcuffs a block away, the mom and two other daughters get to present their case to a jury that police used the key to unreasonably enter the house without announcement. E.R. v. Jasso, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 228578 (W.D.Tex. Nov. 30, 2021)*:

It was around midday on a Thanksgiving weekend. A mother (Olga Alcantara) was helping her two minor daughters shower in her bathroom; no one else was inside her home. A male voice shattered the peaceful family time. Stepping out to see who that was, she saw two police officers, in uniform, standing in her dining room. The officers had entered her home through a backdoor, unlocking it with a key they found in a teenager’s bra; that’s the mother’s third daughter; the daughter was held in handcuffs a block away from the home.

The mother brought this civil rights action, claiming that the officers violated her Fourth Amendment rights to be secure in her house against unreasonable searches. At this stage of the litigation, the officers request that the Court dismiss her claim—as a matter of law. And that is because, they say, they are entitled to “qualified immunity”—a judicially-created venerable doctrine that shields from liability, for money damages, all but the plainly incompetent officers. If their request is granted, that would deprive the mother of her day in court and the opportunity to learn what a jury of this community would think about these events.

More than two decades ago, the Supreme Court wrote “the Fourth Amendment embodies the centuries-old principle that ‘the house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence, as for his repose.'” Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609-10, 119 S. Ct. 1692, 143 L. Ed. 2d 818 (1999) (quoting an early 1600’s opinion by an English court). As explained below, the officers’ entry into the mother’s home was, clearly, an affront to that basic principle. Their request is denied. This mother gets to present her case to a jury.

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