The final argument was that there may have been handguns in home. The belief of child pornography was there and both Bellottes had firearms in the home. The court reasoned that the firearms were legally there and the Bellottes had firearms permits. The court noted the following in the opinion: It should go without saying that carrying a concealed weapon pursuant to a valid concealed carry permit is a lawful act. The officers admitted at oral argument, moreover, that "most people in West Virginia have guns." With that conclusion that most people in West Virginia have guns if the officers are correct, then the knock and announcement requirement would never apply in the search of anyone's home who legally owned a firearm. Officers could not give a plausible reason as to why they thought anyone in the Bellotte household would cause them harm. With few more arguments the court rejected the argument that the no-knock warrant was valid. "We affirm the district court's holding that this no-knock entry violated the Bellotte's clearly established constitutional rights and does not warrant an award of qualified immunity."
The court then addressed the issue excessive force claims by T Bellotte, E Bellotte, and C Bellotte. The court relied on Graham v. Connor. Did the suspects pose threats to the safety of the officers or others? Did they actively resist, or attempt to evade.
In T. Bellotte's case she stated that the officers entered the home in dynamic entry, firearms were drawn. During situation such as these the officers were entering a home to take control of the situation without harm to themselves and occupants. T. Bellotte left her bed and went to the closet to obtain a firearm. Officer reacted by restraining her and escorting her downstairs away from any foreseeable danger. The officers were given qualified immunity.
In C. Bellotte's case the officers entered the room with firearms drawn and she awoke to see at least four men there. However, once officers realized she was of no threat they did not keep the firearms on her and no excessive force was used.
In the case of E. Bellotte however, he felt a firearm in the back of his head. The officers contested his description but, realizing that factual disputes do not contend on appeal, the court did not review those circumstances and allowed his allegations to go through.
Upon the claim on the improper use of the no-knock provision the court ruled in strong language. "When the officers failed to knock and announce their presence under these particular circumstances, they transgressed the boundaries identified by this circuit and violated clearly established federal law. They may not now seek the shelter of immunity for that claim." The court affirmed the denial of qualified immunity on the no-knock entry and E. Bellotte's excessive force claim remanding for proceedings. Denial was decided on the reverse of qualified immunity as to T. Bellotte and C. Bellotte excessive force claims.
Lessons Learned The use of special operations teams must be clearly thought out in situations. Is the team needed? What are the charges? If there are weapons, take the next step to see if the occupants have a criminal record. Is there verifiable evidence that the subject has violent tendencies? Then re-evaluate. Are there children in the home? Do your background information as if it were a separate investigation. We lost this one. So, we all learn.