Tametta Bellotte filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state charges against Detective Edwards and all officers involved in the entry and search of the home. On December 28, 2009 the district court granted in part and denied in part the motion for summary judgment. The court dismissed the Bellotte's claim that the search warrant was invalid and that part of the execution were unreasonable.
The court ruled that the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity in regards to fourth amendment claim on the no-knock entry and excessive use of weapons. It allowed the state law claim for emotional distress to continue. The officers appealed the denial of complete qualified immunity and the Bellotte's appealed the partial grant of summary judgment on the search warrant and its execution.
The Fourth Court of Appeals addressed the question of whether the officers were entitled to qualified immunity for the no-knock entry to the Bellotte's home and the use of the SORT team.
The officers contended that the entry was legal for two reasons. It did "not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S. Ct. 2727, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1982).
However the court took into consideration of utilizing the no-knock provision allowed by the courts. Before forcibly entering a residence, police officers "must knock on the door and announce their identity and purpose." Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385, 387, 117 S. Ct. 1416, 137 L. Ed. 2d 615 (1997). Additionally the court looked at Richards who specifically states "In order to justify a 'no-knock' entry, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime by, for example, allowing the destruction of evidence." Richards, 520 U.S. at 394. The court believed the argument to be weak.
The officers countered that knocking in this situation would put them into a precarious safety situation. That Bellotte may act "unpredictably and violently" when he was arrested for child pornography. They believed that the embarrassment of the charge may lead to violence.
The court reasoned that although child pornography was deplorable and illegally obtained there was no indication that it immediately attached violence to the crime. There was no evidence that either of the Bellottes had propensity of violence. They had no criminal record and or a police report of any kind. Her ability to obtain a firearm's permit showed they were responsible adults. The warrant, as applied for and signed for, did not have the approval of the magistrate for a no-knock warrant.
The officers then fell back on an argument that reasoned that a no-knock warrant was valid for the safety of Bellotte as well. Bellotte could be suicidal. The court believed the argument to be speculative at most. The officers' own testimony did not lead to the credibility of this argument. From filed brief brought by the officers stated "Because you don't know how or what the mental status of somebody (is) that you're doing a warrant for child pornography, you don't know how they're going to react." Brief of Appellants at 24.
The court looked at Singleton, 441 F.3d at 293 which stated that ("(E)exigent circumstances--like a threat of physical violence to officers--may allow officers to conduct a no-knock entry") and Gould, 165 F.3d at 274 ("Without question, the failure to knock and announce prior to entering a home can be justified by a fear for officer safety."); Ker, 374 U.S. at 40 Exigent circumstances allow an exception to the knock-and-announce requirement when "the officer's peril would have been increased or the arrest frustrated had he demanded entrance and stated his purpose")