A Kihei couple is suing the Maui Police Department in federal court after officers allegedly raided their home while executing a search warrant on the wrong address last year.
April and Norman Freeland allege that police forced them outside and searched their home for nearly half an hour, even after they knew they were at the wrong location. Attorney Sam MacRoberts of the Law Office of Philip Lowenthal said the couple still has never seen a warrant for the search.
"Everyone is supposed to feel safe inside their home, and the one person who's supposed to protect you, the police, are the ones who invaded their home," he said. "They feel violated."
April and Norman Freeland of Kihei have filed a lawsuit against Maui County, alleging police officers raided their home while executing a search warrant on the wrong house.
Freeland family photo
But county attorneys dispute the Freelands' version of events, saying police were inside the house for less than 10 minutes and left the building as soon as they realized that they were at the wrong address. Deputy Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey added that police immediately told the Freelands that they were at the wrong house, apologized to them and informed them how they could file a complaint with the Police Commission or MPD's Internal Affairs division.
"The Freelands were shown a copy of the warrant at the time, but they weren't provided the warrant because they weren't the target of the warrant," Lutey said.
The Freelands' lawsuit naming Maui County, Maui Police Chief Gary Yabuta and Maui Police officer Jerald Perkett was filed Oct. 14 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu. The suit alleges police violated the Freelands' constitutional rights and asks for $250,000 in damages and $1 million in punitive damages. Trial has been set for January 2013.
"The police had no legal right to invade April and Norman Freeland's home, and we believe they were not acting in good faith," MacRoberts said. "We hope this suit changes the way our police force does business."
Lutey said the situation was extremely unusual, but police responded correctly as soon as it was apparent that they were at the wrong address.
"It's certainly not our practice or policy to go to the wrong house to execute warrants," she said. "This is the first time I'm aware of this ever happening in all the years I've been involved in representing the Maui Police Department."
According to the Freelands' complaint, they were at home hosting a dinner for three guests on April 15 when they heard a loud noise from their front lanai at around 9 p.m.
When the Freelands approached the door to their lanai they found armed men who did not identify themselves but were later identified as Maui Police officers, according to the complaint.
"When Norman Freeland touched the door, the men rushed into the Freelands' home without permission," the complaint alleges, adding that the officers did not "knock and announce" their presence as required by state law.
The officers "screamed and yelled" as they entered the home, grabbed Norman Freeland by the wrist and forced him and his wife outside, where they were held by a man carrying a "combat-type weapon," according to the complaint.
The men told the Freelands that they had a warrant but did not show it to them, according to the complaint. It also claims April Freeland told them that they were at the wrong house and pointed out that their address was clearly displayed on the outside fence and door. Still, the officers continued to detain them and searched the house for around 30 minutes, according to the complaint.
The officers "overturned furniture," "searched the Freelands' drawers" and "created a mess in the Freelands' home," according to the complaint.
But Lutey said the county disputed the Freelands' account of the incident.
She said police were attempting to execute a search warrant when they approached the Freelands' home.
"My understanding was there was a knock and announce, and the door was opened for them by the Freelands," she said.
Nobody was handcuffed, but the Freelands and their guests were asked to stand outside, which is standard procedure when executing a warrant, she said.
Lutey said officers showed the Freelands a copy of their warrant, then sent in an entry team to "clear" the home, or to go from room to room to make sure there was nobody else in the house who presented a threat.
"It was a very quick sweep of the house," she said.
She said the officers initially thought that the Freelands might be the parents of their target but soon realized they were at the wrong address and exited the house before the search team could be sent in, with police spending less than 10 minutes at the home.
April Freeland was 63 and Norman Freeland was 72 at the time of the incident.
Lutey said the Freelands' might have incorrectly interpreted the entry team's sweep of the house as a search.
"Obviously, they were confused over what was going on at their house, but no search was ever done," she said.
She also disputed that officers damaged property or deliberately made a mess of the home.
"If a chair got knocked down in the process of an entry, that might have happened, but it would not have been done purposely to damage any part of their home," she said.
Lutey said the Freelands apparently recognized that there was drug activity in the area, because they told the officers that they should have gone to the house next door.
MacRoberts said the Freelands are still "scared" by the incident.
"The chief of police and the county have to stand up, take responsibility and demand their police officers not behave as armed bullies," he said. "We cannot tolerate or accept this kind of behavior. If citizens do not have the courage to stand up for their rights, they will lose them."
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.