Friday, March 22, 2013
Woman in McKinney wants compensation for damages to her home during police raid
The police were searching for methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
MCKINNEY A McKinney woman is seeking compensation for damages done to her residence during a police raid conducted last month.
Debra McHale says the city should be liable for at least $500 in estimated damage caused to her front door, a glass window, a dresser drawer, and a metal safe, among other items.
A SWAT team conducted the raid February 22 at McHale's home in the 5000 block of Sugarberry Drive in McKinney. According to the search warrant, police had probable cause to search the home for "methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia."
Neither McHale, 59, nor her 26-year-old son Daniel McHale, who also lives there, were at home during the raid. SWAT forced entry into the house through the front door and broke a double glass window about 10 feet from the door, severely damaging both, Debra said.
Debra, who returned later to see there had been an extensive search, said authorities "ransacked everything," including breaking a dresser drawer and a safe in her closet, leaving the contents of both strewn across the floor.
According to the inventory list on the search warrant police left at the home, police found a "marijuana pipe," "baggies," and a syringe. No one was arrested as result of the search.
Debra, a widow, says a diamond necklace that was in her safe is missing - a claim McKinney police Deputy Chief Joe Ellenburg said she would "need to take up with internal affairs."
McKinney police spokesman Sgt. Chad Barker, who said he spent eight years with SWAT, said the way authorities respond during a raid and search is "not cookie-cutter" and varies depending on the case. He said that SWAT first checks if an entry is unlocked and that their goal is to "get into the house as quickly and as safely as possible."
With regards to the broken front window, police said their preceding investigation singled out that room as the bedroom of Daniel, who along with his fiancé, Shanda Whited, 28, were the primary reasons for the search. Sgt. Barker said that in raids authorities sometimes "port a window" because it takes time to get through the door and they want to have multiple breach points.
"It comes down to time and distance and if it will help us get eyes in there the fastest," he said. "The purpose is to be a distraction, and it really cuts down on any potential threat. Sometimes the location is more of a threat than the people inside ... It's weighted based on known factors of both the structure and people inside."
Barker added that if an individual targeted in a raid has previous drug convictions, such information weighs greatly in the raid because "it's common to associate drugs and guns together."
Court records show since 2005, Daniel has been arrested for interference with an emergency call, possession of marijuana (less than 2 ounces), possession of a controlled substance (less than 1 gram), violation of a protective order, criminal trespass, and failure to identify a fugitive -- all misdemeanors except the controlled substance charge.
That charge stemmed from a previous search executed October 24, 2010 at the same residence. According to the more recent search warrant affidavit, during the 2010 search police found "pipes used to smoke methamphetamine, small plastic baggies containing methamphetamine residue, and methamphetamine weighing 0.8 grams." As a result, Daniel McHale was convicted and sentenced to four years probation in July 2011.
Debra said, and court records show, that the protective order charge was dropped in 2008 after she and her late husband withdrew their request for the order against Daniel.
Last month's search warrant affidavit states the Febuary 22 raid also stemmed from McKinney police finding a stolen car in the garage at the McHale residence on December 23, 2012. Debra said that Daniel let a friend keep the car at their home unaware that it was stolen, and that after police removed the car, that person returned and tried to break in. Daniel and Shanda called police to report he was there, what he was wearing, and the direction he fled, Debra said.
The affidavit states that McKinney Police Chief Joe Williams received a letter from the McHales' neighbor stating that "he and his neighbors have observed disturbances pertaining to family violence, suspicious behavior, and vehicles." Debra said Daniel and Shanda had recently argued about money problems, but said some of the neighbors' accusations "are absolutely false."
Police used the neighbor's letter, which alleged numerous police visits to the McHale home, as one reason to justify the February 22 raid.
The affidavit also cites a Febuary 13 "trash run" investigation by police, during which detectives collected a trash receptacle from in front of the McHale home "indicating property abandonment," and in which they allegedly found several used syringes and 1-inch-by-1-inch plastic bags that "appeared to contain methamphetamine residue." A field test on one of the syringes obtained a positive result for meth, the affidavit states.
The warrant, signed by District Judge Chris Olner, states that facts already mentioned and "stop and go traffic consistent with narcotic distribution ... all of which are corroborated by 11 named neighbors" supported detectives' belief that "criminal activity and the possession and use of methamphetamine is ongoing" at the McHale residence.
Debra said "nothing in [Daniel's and Shanda's] past ever reflected distributing drugs or selling," which she said better justifies such a raid. She said she's upset police damaged her residence and belongings, left many of them out in the open and never called to notify her of the raid once conducted. She added that police told her drug dogs led them to her safe but that there had never been any illegal drugs in the safe.
Sgt. Barker said SWAT removed a dresser that was in their way on the front porch, and police put it in the garage once SWAT left. Debra said the dresser damaged was one in her room.
In response to Debra's claim of a missing necklace, Barker said "everything we take is listed in the search warrant" left at the residence.
A vase, laptop, and XBOX were also damaged in the search, Debra said, though she added she has sought compensation for only some of the damage -- particularly to the door and window, because "the homeowner's association is screaming at me to get it fixed."
"When you live paycheck to paycheck and are just trying to make ends meet, it's expensive," she said.
City spokesperson Anna Clark said the police department and city are not liable for anything damaged in the scope of their duty, only if something is accidentally damaged. She said risk management staff, which handles such claims, told her that in the last year there had been four similar claims from residents seeking compensation for damages done during a police search. None resulted in compensation.
"They do investigate and review all claims, even though there is not legal liability," Clark said. "If liability is found, sometimes reimbursement is given. It all depends on the individual situation, and we are removed from liability on damage done in the course and scope of duty per the Texas Tort Claims Act. But we want to handle claims in a reasonable manner."
Debra said she feels neither the raid nor the ensuing city response were reasonable. A copy of the search warrant affidavit -- which includes the documented probable cause for the search -- was made available Tuesday.
Debra said she may hire an attorney in hopes of ultimately receiving compensation for damages done at her home, but said she doesn't think it would do any good.
"It's hard to just forget about it when you don't have the money to fix anything," she said. "What they did was uncalled for. People should know what police can do to you and your home without any consequences or accountability."
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