To Save Nancy Butano, Who Didn't Call 911, Sheriff's Deputies Attacked Her in Her Home

[Moxley Confidential] And all they have to say is 'We're here investigating something'

In The Minority Report, Philip K. Dick's 1956 science-fiction short story that became a 2002 Steven Spielberg blockbuster starring Tom Cruise, the police department finds a novel way to expand its powers. "Pre-crime" officers use three government-controlled human mutants—glorified psychics who can see two weeks into the future—and armed with precognitive reports, cops hunt down and arrest citizens for crimes that haven't occurred.

Dick's tale may have seemed farfetched decades ago, but few people know that Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) deputies now employ a modified precognitive system. Theirs doesn't involve mutants, but rather deputies relying on their own keen mental machinations.

Take, for example, the case of Nancy Butano. Just after 3 p.m. on Feb. 10, 2010, Butano was at her San Juan Capistrano home, lovingly watching her two, 20-month-old kids while handling an important business telephone call. She had no reason to suspect she was about to enter a police-state nightmare.

Patrick O'Connor


Sheriff's deputies Charles Henry Stumph and Cory Haruo Martino stood outside Butano's residence and saw a tall, 115-pound woman who wasn't armed, wasn't bleeding, wasn't screaming, wasn't jumping up and down, and wasn't calling for help. She was calmly talking on the phone. The deputies also knew that nobody had accused her of even shortchanging a parking meter.

In theory, the 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights protects citizens from unreasonable police intrusions. Stumph and Martino didn't have consent or a search warrant to enter Butano's residence. But they knew that judges have carved holes in 4th Amendment guarantees; for example, they can evade the need for consent or a court order if they face an emergency.

According to Stumph and Martino, the scene with Butano presented a frightening crisis. The resident clearly had been on the verge of killing them, herself and her children or destroying evidence, they asserted. They'd also concocted the notion that an unknown assailant might have been lurking in the house with homicidal intentions against Butano.

Never mind the lack of any evidence; the deputies had covered their bets on the emergency excuse: Either Butano was going to kill, or someone was going to kill her. That's why, they argued, they could run inside the home uninvited, yell otherwise-illegal commands, assault a shocked Butano—kicking her down, giving her a black eye and a facial laceration, and violate state law by keeping her in custody at the Orange County Jail for more than 30 hours on trumped-up charges.

The police abuse that caused Butano (and her lawyer Jerry L. Steering) to file a pending federal civil-rights lawsuit didn't end there. With the deputies' help, government social workers took custody of her children for 11 days under the justification that she had abandoned them. Of course, the deputies were responsible for the abandonment when they unnecessarily took her to jail for the misdemeanor charge of interfering with their duties, charges that were later dropped as meritless.

The incident began when—unbeknownst to Butano—her boyfriend Paul Luddy left the back yard where he was cutting bamboo with a machete-type knife, walked to a neighbor's house, confronted gardeners who were using an obnoxiously loud leaf blower and walked away. The gardeners called OCSD about a possible criminal threat.

Deputies Stumph, Martino and Alexandra Flores, who was in training, arrived, talked with the gardeners and went to the Luddy/Butano house. Given that Luddy matched the description of the suspect, the deputies asked him to exit the house, put him under arrest and then placed him into their patrol car.

Butano, who'd been in the back yard with her kids, knew none of what happened. Later, when the deputies began ordering her to end her call, come outside and answer their questions, they didn't say there was an emergency. They told her to get off the phone. She told them to wait. That exertion of her constitutional rights pissed off the deputies.

In later depositions, both Stumph and Martino admitted that Butano was within her rights to not follow their commands before their entry. But, according to Stumph, he was free to interpret her noncompliance as an element to imagine a murder might be in the works.

Here's a key portion of transcript from an OCSD recording of the confrontation:

Deputy: Let's come outside, ma'am.

Butano: No, I am on the phone.

Deputy: Okay, listen.

Butano: I did not ask you to come in this house.

Deputy: Okay.

Butano: I'm busy right now.

Deputy: Okay, I'm going to tell you one time.

Butano: No! No! Don't touch me.

Deputy: Ma'am.

Butano: [being slammed down and manhandled] Don't touch me, asshole. [Cries of pain.] I can't believe you're doing this to me. [Cries of pain.] You're going to break my arm! [Cries of pain.]

Deputy: Get up! Stand up! Do you have anything illegal on you?

Butano: No. What are you doing to me?

Deputy: Just relax.

Butano: What's going on?

Deputy: We're here investigating something.

Butano: I can't believe you slammed me against that wall. I'm a girl, for God's sake.

Moments later, Martino turned to Deputy Flores and explained, "[Butano] wouldn't get off the phone. And we're like, 'Ma'am, get off the phone.' And then, like, we see a crossbow, and we're, like, 'Hey, get off the phone.' And she's, like, 'no,' and so Charlie starts chasing her and takes her down."

Next Page »