LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A Louisville couple say they were getting their three kids ready for the day last October when 14 Louisville Metro Police SWAT officers raided their home, smashing through the front door, using explosive devices and holding the family at gunpoint.
The reason for the raid: A detective claimed he smelled marijuana coming from outside the West Chestnut Street home on separate occasions and believed someone was growing and selling marijuana inside, according to a search warrant.
But a lawsuit filed against the city, Det. Joseph Tapp and other unknown SWAT officers claims there was no probable cause for a raid, that the search warrant included false information, and police misconduct created a situation that “very easily could have resulted in the death of a parent or child for no good reason.”
In fact, a man and woman named in the search warrant affidavit and described as growing and selling marijuana do not live at the home – information that could have easily been discovered by police, according to the suit filed last week in Jefferson Circuit Court.
The couple who own the home, Ashlea Burr and Mario Daugherty - a local artist whose work has been featured at the Kentucky Derby Museum and on local news - were not growing or selling marijuana, the suit says. WDRB could not find any charges from the raid in court records.
“It’s not only a constitutional violation, but it’s absolutely ridiculous and unreasonable that this could ever happen in a city like ours,” said attorney Josh Rose, who represents the family.
The couple initially believed they were being robbed on Oct. 26, 2018, as officers smashed through the front door, forced Daugherty to the ground and held the others at gunpoint.
One of the children, a 14-year-old, tried to run to her grandmother’s home next door when police drew their weapons and forced her to the ground outside in the rain, the suit claims.
The teen can be heard sobbing on a body camera video of the incident.
Police continued to point assault rifles at the family “even after it became clear that the Residence was a family household – not a drug dealer’s lair,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit also questions the SWAT team's use of force.
"It is completely unreasonable to execute a warrant that vaguely mentions someone potentially smoking marijuana at a residence with a SWAT team of 14 officers, exploding devices, forced entry, and assault rifles, particularly when no investigation was done to determine who lived in the residence," the suit says.
And the suit argues the department has a custom of searching predominantly African American homes in mostly black neighborhoods "without probable cause" and in violation of the 4th Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches.
The couple who filed the lawsuit is African American.
LMPD did not immediately response to a request for comment. The department does not typically discuss pending litigation.
Rose said LMPD initially denied his request for body camera video from the officers, telling him none existed.
The attorney was later provided video after pointing out that the officers were required to wear body cams under department policy, he said. But the footage was “almost completely redacted visually and audibly” until after the raid was mostly over, according to the suit.
The lawsuit also claims that besides allegedly smelling marijuana, Tapp did no other investigation to confirm there was probable cause for a SWAT raid, including checking to see if the man and woman identified in the search warrant actually lived in the home.
Rose said the family has suffered emotionally since the raid, that the children have had nightmares, trouble sleeping and have gone to counseling.
The suit is seeking a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages.
“They are also very concerned that this not happen again,” Rose said.
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