Mistaken identity and the Fourth Amendment

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
March 24, 2002
Back in the summer, there was a rumor that the East Mississippi Drug Task Force had conducted a surprise raid at the wrong address forcing their way into a house and frightening its innocent inhabitants.
Impossible to verify on the record at the time, it now seems clear that something very much like that did, in fact, occur.
On June 22, officers conducted a search at 2903 36th Ave. in Meridian. Inside the house were Jimmy Dwayne Jordan, Matthew D. Stevenson and Rosemary McAniffe. The officers had a warrant to search for a "large, voluminous quantity of marijuana and other illicit/illegal narcotics such as ecstasy."
The problem with this particular raid is that the officers had the wrong address and the wrong "Jimmy Jordan."
Federal lawsuit filed
The three residents of the house have filed suit in U.S. District Court against the task force and two of the three entities that make it up the city of Meridian and Lauderdale County.
Jordan, Stevenson and McAniffe demand a jury trial and $250,000 each in actual and punitive damages to compensate them for violation of their civil rights under the Fourth Amendment, which states:
All three are represented by Meridian attorney George Follett, who says he pursued a financial settlement with local authorities before filing a federal lawsuit earlier this month.
Put simply, the complaint says the officers acting on information from a confidential informant took insufficient care to make sure they had the right address when they applied for a search warrant. In the summer of 2001, there was apparently another man who lived nearby with an identical or similar name.
The lawsuit also alleges that the June 22 raid was not the first time Jimmy Dwayne Jordan had been mistaken for the other man by local law enforcement officials.
Writing in behalf of his clients, Follett says the raid would have been improper even if task force officers had been at the right house because they allegedly did not knock on the door and identify themselves and their purpose before forcing their way inside.
If they had, he says, Jimmy Dwayne Jordan could have cleared up the confusion on the doorstep.
If that's so, Follett argues, "no knock" authorization should have been part of the warrant.
While the search warrant did not specifically authorize a "no knock" entry, the U.S. Supreme Court has granted wide latitude to law enforcement officers to make an assessment at the scene and make a forcible entry if probable cause exists to do so. They should, however, be prepared to justify their actions at a later date.
Sheriff Billy Sollie declines to comment, so no public justification for the alleged no knock entry has been offered.
That the officers of the East Mississippi Drug Task Force were in the wrong place is inarguable. What was going through their minds as they stood just outside the door in the moments before the raid is, at least for the moment, unknowable.

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