Deputy didn't take 'no' for an answer
By Tom Lyons
Published: Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 9:50 p.m.
A federal lawsuit filed by a Manatee County man in his 70s who was injured when a deputy barged into his home delves into a muddy area of the law.
The key question: When a law officer is at your door, are you obliged to let him into your castle, even if he insists? Even if he can't show you a warrant?
The answer, it seems, is sometimes yes, sometimes no. And good luck to all when resident and officer disagree.
You may have read about the case. Benjamin Dakar, now 78, was wrestled to the ground and arrested two years ago, shortly after he answered a deputy's early morning knock on the door of his mobile home. Dakar suffered a broken rib during the scuffle.
At first, Dakar and Deputy Jason Riley, who had a badge but was not in uniform, had a polite conversation. Riley came because Dakar's grandson, accused of not paying traffic fines, had listed that address as his own the last time he was arrested.
All agree Dakar politely said the grandson didn't live there and had moved out of state.
But the deputy caught a glimpse of someone else in the house and, unaware it was Dakar's wife, insisted he needed to come in and check.
He had no warrant to show. And the law is a bit vague, even if the deputy had had a copy of the arrest warrant with him. A government agent can't come uninvited into a home to serve an arrest warrant unless he has good reason to believe the person is there at the moment.
But what is good enough cause?
In this case, the grandson had no car parked nearby, and there was no apparent reason for an officer to assume Dakar was lying, aside from the fact that many people do lie in such circumstances.
When Dakar said no one could enter without a warrant, the deputy insisted and then tried to push past him. The deputy testified later that he pushed Dakar to the floor and handcuffed him only after the admittedly frail man hit him in the face.
Dakar said he stood in the doorway but denied hitting the deputy. He also refused a potentially tempting plea deal that would have dropped the battery on a law officer charge and left Dakar free and without a criminal record, if he had agreed he had some fault in the matter. Dakar's lawyer, Andrea Mogensen, said Dakar refused as a matter of principle, because he felt well within his rights to refuse entry to his home that morning, and had suffered the slow-healing broken rib as well as trauma and humiliation.
As Dakar sees it, it was a home invasion by the people who are supposed to protect him. "He was pretty insulted," Mogensen said.A jury found Dakar not guilty.
And thanks to Dakar's new civil suit against the Manatee Sheriff's Office, we might soon see what a federal jury has to say when the deputy and his boss, Sheriff Brad Steube, are the defendants.
Sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow said Wednesday that the case seems unlikely to end with an out-of-court settlement. Lots of people lie to help a relative avoid arrest,
Bristow said, and the sheriff believes his deputy had a reasonable basis to suspect the grandson was there.
Maybe. Or maybe hearing lies too often can make a deputy prone to err on the side of barging into a man's home when he really should just take no for an answer.
Tom Lyons can be contacted at email@example.com
or (941) 361-4964.