Earlier this week, the Mississippi Appeals Court upheld a 2019 judgement awarding a Vicksburg couple $50,000 for law enforcement wrongly entering their home on a “no-knock” warrant.
Agents with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and officers with the Vicksburg Police Department broke down the door of Henry and Rita Hunter’s home at 323 Feld St. the morning of April 24, 2015, according to court documents.
Officers had a no-knock warrant to search the home. The problem was that it was the wrong house; the warrant should have been served next door at 325 Feld St.
The incident occurred after a yearlong task force investigation targeted several areas of drug activity in Warren County. Dubbed “Operation Long Time Coming II,” MBI used confidential informants to buy quantities of marijuana and crack and powder cocaine from “numerous individuals” including the person who lived at 325 Feld St.
In April 2015, MBI officers Norman Harris and Robert Whitten obtained the warrant in question from the Warren County Justice Court. Their application incorrectly listed the address as 323 Feld St.
On the morning the warrant was served, former VPD Lt. Troy Kimble, who served as the VPD’s lead officer on the task force, realized they had the wrong house, and informed the MBI agent in charge, Evan Storr. Regardless, Storr proceeded.
“Just prior to the team’s execution of the warrant, Rita was in her nightgown drinking coffee and watching the news,” the court document states. “When she heard what sounded like someone opening the screen door at the front of their house, she notified Henry. Henry, who was not fully dressed, proceeded to open the front door but quickly stopped at Rita’s request. As he went to the bedroom to retrieve his firearm, law enforcement officers used a battering ram to open the door, which flew off the hinges. The officers had their weapons drawn and commanded the Hunters to ‘get down, get down.’ Rita immediately complied and started to pray. Henry complied after Rita begged him to get on the floor. When the officers asked the Hunters for the targeted individual’s whereabouts, the Hunters responded that he did not live there. The officers allowed Henry and Rita to get off the floor approximately five minutes later.”
Kimble then directed the officers to the correct house next door, where they spoke with the mother of the individual they were looking for. He was later apprehended at another location.
“Following the incident, Rita drove Henry to the emergency room because his heart was racing. He previously had a stent put in his heart,” the court’s decision states. “The medical visit cost the Hunters approximately $2,850. The damage to their door totaled approximately $350.”
The Hunters subsequently sued the MBI and the VPD for $50,000. VPD sought summary judgment in 2018 and was removed from the suit.
Judge Toni Terrett of the Warren County Circuit Court heard the case in a bench trial in July 2019. Evidence showed that the VPD had the correct address in their files. Lt. Kimble also testified that he notified Agent Storr twice that they had the wrong address before the team battered down the Hunter’s door.
In the original ruling, the court summarized why it ruled the way it did: “As a result of [the Bureau’s] actions, Henry said he felt ‘demoralized.’ The incident had a lasting impact on both Henry and Rita’s sense of security and well-being in their personal home. Henry said he felt the event was detrimental to his character. He and Rita have endured jokes and comments from others in the community about whether they are selling drugs. … Rita said she has not gotten over what happened on that day.”
“At the close of trial, the trial judge found that the Bureau acted in reckless disregard in executing the ‘no knock’ warrant on the Hunters’ home when it had been told twice that the wrong address was being searched. Based on that finding, the trial court awarded the Hunters $50,000 in damages,” the appeal court’s decision states.
The court upheld Terrett’s ruling in a unanimous 8-0 ruling.
“[W]e affirm the trial court’s finding that the Bureau acted in reckless disregard and likewise affirm the trial court’s $50,000 award in damages,” the court wrote.
Thomas Parker contributed to this report.