SOUTH BEND — A South Bend woman is suing local police departments after police mistakenly raided and damaged her home in search of a fugitive who was reportedly never there and had no connection to her family.
According to a Dec. 15 lawsuit and body-camera footage, more than 30 officers from the South Bend Police Department and the St. Joseph County Police Department surrounded Amy Hadley’s home in the 1800 block of East Calvert Street on June 10, 2022.
Police believed they had tracked a fugitive’s social media activity to the home, the lawsuit states. But the only person there was Hadley’s teenaged son, Noah, who was playing video games when he heard officers ordering anyone in the house to come out with their hands up.
“I look outside and I see everybody pointing their guns at me,” the boy, 15 years old at the time of the raid, says in a video released by the nonprofit Institute for Justice, a libertarian civil liberties law firm representing Hadley.
As Hadley’s son walked out, an officer can be heard on body-camera footage saying: “That’s not him.” Officers can be heard telling him that he wasn’t suspected of any crime. Police handcuffed the boy and took him to the police station anyway, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states that officers waited about 40 minutes longer, shouting for the fugitive to come out. Then they “launched dozens of tear gas grenades into the house, destroyed the security cameras, shattered windows, punched holes in walls, ransacked furniture and closets, tore down a panel and fan in a bathroom,” according to the lawsuit. A family kitten in the home survived, but family photos, electronics and furniture were reportedly ruined.
Lawyers aren’t challenging the warrant to search Hadley’s home for the fugitive, which police obtained from a St. Joseph County judge that day. But they are demanding just compensation for the damage inflicted to private property, which police are required by federal and state law to provide.
Hadley’s homeowner’s insurance covered only a portion of the estimated $16,000 in damage, the lawsuit states.
“When governments aren’t required to pay for the damage that they inflict, there’s not really an incentive for them to be measured in their responses,” said Marie Miller, an attorney on the case for the Institute of Justice. “There wasn’t any incentive for them not to go over the top in what they did to Amy’s house.”
A South Bend police spokeswoman said the department won’t comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for St. Joseph County police was not immediately available for comment.
The lawsuit states that a St. Joseph County police officer had tracked the Facebook usage of then-30-year-old John Parnell Thomas, who was wanted on multiple warrants, to an IP address he had believed was associated with the Calvert Street home.
Officers had surveilled the home the previous night and shortly after noon on June 10, believing Thomas was inside.
Thomas was arrested elsewhere days later for allegedly shooting and killing 32-year-old Eric Johnson on May 14, 2022, after an argument near the LaSalle Park Homes on South Bend’s west side.
Thomas was charged with murder, but earlier this year he pleaded guilty to reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter.
Hadley and her daughter, Kayla, first saw the commotion from the street as they walked up to their home. They pleaded with police to stop the raid and told officers that they were at the wrong house.
Hadley told The Tribune that police left after the raid without admitting their fault or following up. She learned from neighbors that her son was at the police station. Once she picked him up and they returned home, they found that the tear-gas residue made it too uncomfortable to sleep inside.
“Breathing was very difficult,” she said. “So we were unable to even stay in the house. We ended up staying in the car that night before we were able to go back in the house.”
The Institute for Justice is representing other property owners who have been left to pay for a government agency’s damage. The firm says it’s filed lawsuits on behalf of a Los Angeles printer whose equipment was destroyed during a police raid and a Texas woman whose home was wrecked by a SWAT team.
But Miller said she remains shocked by the number of officers who responded to the Calvert Street home and by the extent of the damage done. She said it’s also stunning that Hadley and her family are entirely innocent yet haven’t been reimbursed by police.
“I don’t feel like (the officers) cared,” Hadley told The Tribune. “I mean, they completely destroyed my property and just took off. There was no follow-up or anything. They didn’t admit that they were wrong or anything. I definitely have a big mistrust in police and the law, at this point.”