Jury will decide issues involving officer's unwarranted entry to home pursuing shoplifter
Mark Stoneburner and Damon Knapp, two Sturgis police officers, went to the home of Donnetta Smith in response to the report of a $14.99 shoplifting at Walgreens. They did not secure a warrant. The officers asked Logan Smith whether his brother was home and were told that he was. Logan asked them to wait on the porch while he retrieved his brother. After interviewing Charles, but not placing him under arrest, Charles re-entered the home, but was seized just inside the doorway by one of the officers. He was then arrested and handcuffed. In the process of the arrest, his mother was either shoved or bumped and Charles' wrist was injured. The Smiths filed suit alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment governing search and seizure.Needless to say, the Smiths' account of the incident varied from the officers'. The Smiths asserted that they never consented to an entry into the house, that an officer shoved the mother, that Charles Smith did not resist arrest, and that the officers repeatedly refused to loosen Smith's cuffs. The officers claimed their two entries into the house were exigent and exempt from the Fourth Amendment requirement of a warrant. They claimed that Charles "stiffened his back" while being cuffed, causing his own injuries and the "bumping" of his mother.
The trial judge denied the officers' claim of immunity and left the case to be decided by a jury, citing the variance in the factual account of the incident. The officers appealed, but were rebuffed by the Sixth Circuit. The Court noted that mere acquiesence in a search does not constitute Fourth Amendment consent, and that it appeared even by the officers' account that they lacked consent for either entry into the home: clearly a fact issue was raised for the jury to decide.
The Court emphasized longstanding Federal and Michigan law denying police the right to make a warrantless entry into a home to investigate a misdemeanor, absent evidence of hot pursuit or issues of safety. In passing, the Court pointed out that there was ample evidence to convict Smith of the alleged crime and that there was little risk of his effectively destroying the evidence that might be in the home. Furthermore, the appellate panel agreed with the trial judge that if a jury believes the Smiths' account of the arrest, the officers were guilty of using excessive force to make a misdemeanor arrest.