The FBI is facing a federal lawsuit alleging that masked federal agents burst into an Atlanta home, tossing flash-bang grenades and brandishing guns — only to find out they had the wrong house.
After 4 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2017, an unknown number of agents stormed into the Denville Trace home off Fairburn Road using a battering ram to execute a no-knock search warrant. The commotion woke up plaintiff Curtrina Martin, her fiance and her 7-year-old, who were all terrified and confused, according to the suit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. Martin thought it was a home invasion, not knowing the FBI actually had been intending to raid a home on nearby Landau Lane.
The FBI declined to comment on the pending litigation. It isn’t clear what the search would’ve intended to find if it was done on the correct house.
Martin’s fiance took her to a closet. He was about to reach for a shotgun when an agent opened the closet, according to the suit. The child was in the next room over pulling the covers over his face in fear, thinking he was about to die, the lawsuit said.
“As the agents opened the closet door, Ms. Martin fell into a corner in the closet,” Martin’s attorney Lisa C. Lambert wrote in the filing, which doesn’t name the FBI agents and seeks unspecified damages. “She faced an unknown man wearing a mask and pointing a gun in her face. He repeatedly ordered her to keep her hands up. The agent with a gun on Ms. Martin did not immediately identify himself as law enforcement and neither did the other agents.”
Dean Dabney, Georgia State University criminal justice professor, said he hears of all kinds of botched raids, which he said often go wrong because of the high intensity of the situations and the large margin for error.
“It’s never OK when it happens,” Dabney told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We do expect more of law enforcement, but we don’t expect them to be robots.”
The traditional practice before such a raid is for officers to meet and plot out their assignment, with pictures of the home and each member of the team’s assignments doled out. The reason for the the planning is simple, Dabney said: so each person knows his or her job, such as swinging the battering ram or searching this room or that room, and can think solely about that job. If one person makes a job, such as driving up to the wrong house, there can be a “cascading effect” where goes wrong, the professor said.
“It just sounds like the train got off the tracks in a horrific way,” Dabney said of the allegations in the suit.
As a result, the suit says the mother and child have suffered serious mental trauma. The suit asks for damages in an amount to be determined later.
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