A Wirth Law Office client has filed a federal civil rights suit alleging malicious prosecution when police raided her home based on a search warrant that targeted a nearby residence. The woman and her husband filed the federal case against Creek County after a court dismissed bogus charges stemming from the raid. Wirth Law Office Attorney Peter Knowles had asked the court to dismiss the case because of the faulty search warrant.
The Mannford couple’s civil rights claim details a nightmarish chain of events that could happen to anyone. Nothing in the case suggests Donald Goss – a disabled veteran – or his wife Linda Goss ever did anything to provoke the police invasion of their residence. Their federal case says prosecutors filed charges against the couple to cover up sloppy police work.
Their misfortune was to live down the street from a residence that a confidential informant had allegedly identified as the home of a marijuana dealer. The errant drug raid unfolded when two digits in the street number of the real target house were transposed.
Investigators Added Insults to Injuries
When police pepper sprayed the family dog then barged into her home on March 31, 2012, Linda Goss was home alone. She spent the next three days in jail, deprived of medication, food, adequate clothing and legal counsel before she returned home.
By then, she and her husband had posted $100,000 bond. Mr. Goss had been battered by a fellow inmate and berated by investigators. Police tried to bargain a false confession for his wife’s freedom, then demeaned his manhood when he refused.
The couple was released from jail around midnight with no cash and no vehicle. Their money and family truck had been impounded. They never saw the truck again. Police warned them not to try to get it out of impound, yet a credit company foreclosed on a loan and auctioned the truck.
Camping gear and a generator the unlikely defendant had been carrying in his truck when he arrived home during he raid were taken and never returned. His fishing boat was seized only to be returned with holes in the hull. Some firearms seized from his home were returned damaged. Others were not returned at all.
Police never provided the couple an inventory of property seized during the unwarranted raid on the their Creek County home. Instead, the couple was charged with possession of methamphetamine, maintaining a place for sale of controlled substances and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony.
The only evidence prosecutors could muster to justify terrorizing the Mannford couple was a small amount of an innocuous substance found in a bag near the couple’s couch. Police claimed a field test indicated it might be a methamphetamine, but the cops’ drug dog found no evidence of drugs.
Police found none of the marijuana or scales they were seeking in a warrant that described a residence regularly used for drug sales. Nonetheless, the police raiding party refused to call off their search when Mrs. Goss insisted she did not know the person named in the warrant.
Evidence Lost, Hearings Delayed
A key piece of evidence — the original search warrant that showed police had raided the wrong house – mysteriously disappeared from court files. The case dragged on for months, with prosecutors repeatedly delaying a hearing where Knowles could contest prosecutors’ lack of evidence.
Meanwhile, the couple provided prosecutors results of hair-follicle drug tests that showed they had not used illegal drugs, but prosecutors forged ahead with their case. Knowles only learned the substance taken from their home tested negative for drugs when a lab report was released four and a half months after the raid – on same day a preliminary hearing had been rescheduled for the third time.
Even then, prosecutors refused to admit their error. Wirth Law Office’s Creek County criminal defense attorney filed a motion to suppress evidence seized in the illegal search. With no evidence to support their case, prosecutors also filed a motion to dismiss, but prosecutors wanted the case dismissed without prejudice, holding out the threat that they could refile the case later. Prosecutors claimed subsequent tests might prove the innocuous substance entered into evidence was an illegal drug.
When Wirth Law Office defense attorney Peter Knowles persisted in arguing for dismissal with prejudice so the case could not be re-opened, prosecutors threatened to charge the elderly couple with selling “turkey dope” — apparently the prosecution’s term for counterfeit drugs. Problem with that threat was, nobody had claimed the couple ever sold drugs to anybody. Police had simply raided the wrong house.
No Excuse For Mistaken Raid
Although police claimed they had mistaken the house based on a transposed street number, they also claimed someone had already shown them the right house. Their confidential informant had pointed to the alleged marijuana dealer’s house down the street but they still got it wrong.
Ms. Goss repeatedly told police did not know the person named in the warrant. Instead of considering her statement, they jailed her and for three days while she was in jail deprived her of her right to an attorney.
The couple is seeking compensation in excess of $75,000 on each of 10 counts in their civil rights claim. Their charges against the county include:
- Unlawful search and seizure
- Unlawful and degrading detention
- Assault and battery
- False arrest and imprisonment
- Taking personal property without due process
- Damage to personal property
- Negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Malicious prosecution
The couple’s malicious prosecution claim rests on the fact that police and prosecutors refused to check the search warrant after it became evident person named in the warrant did not live at the house police raided. Instead, they attempted to contrive a case against the couple, then used seizure of their property and the threat of prosecuting the man’s wife to get him to plea guilty to crimes he did not commit.
Botched Raids Put Everyone At Risk
The Mannford couple’s nightmare could happen to anyone when police and prosecutors refuse to admit their own mistakes. The couple’s civil rights case says police tried to cover up sloppy police work by coercing innocent citizens to take the rap for police mistakes.
The couple’s nightmare is still not over. They are out tens of thousands of dollars. They lost a truck, a boat and other belongings. Most people’s sense of trust in police would be forever shattered by such an unexpected and relentless assault on their home and their freedom.
The problem started in an instant, but it took weeks and months to unravel the malicious case the county filed to cover up its mistake. Getting compensation for their lost property might take even longer – if they are ever fairly compensated for the offensive behavior their county government imposed on them.
The Goss’s aren’t the only ones who’ve been victimized in recent years by errant police raids. Victims of botched raids are left to pay bond or sit in jail, pay attorney fees, lose personal property and suffer traumatic stress from being treated as criminals by no fault of their own. There have even been cases where citizens died as the result of botched police raids.
When police are more eager to make a case than to be sure they’re doing their public job correctly, taxpayers can be left holding the bill for damages caused by careless police actions. The simple solution is for police agencies to hire qualified officers who take time to verify that they are targeting the right address before they launch raids that can be far more dangerous than any outlawed drug they might hope to find.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Criminal Attorney
If you’ve been the victim of an unlawful search that resulted from police negligence or police operations that exceeded their lawful authority, Wirth Law Office’s criminal defense attorneys want to know about it.
For a free, confidential consultation about any criminal matter in Oklahoma courts, contact the Wirth Law Office Tulsa criminal attorneys at (918) 879-1681. You may also contact us using the e-mail form at the top of this page.