Laguna Beach Police Get Excessive Force Immunity For Hurting Elderly Lady, Judge Says
Acting on rumors in June 2011, a Laguna Beach Police Department SWAT team investigating a minor stink bomb attack in their city conducted a full-force raid on a Rowland Heights residence in Los Angeles County.
When Marilyn Injeyan--a 5-foot-3 and 125 pound, 71-year-old retired school teacher without a criminal record--opened her front door, officers donning ballistic vests and pointing flashlights and assault weapons stormed inside.
Sgt. Robert Rahaeuser, then a 60-year-old department veteran of more than three decades, ordered a stunned Injeyan to stand back and she immediately complied.
But the heavily-armed Rahaeuser, who'd later claim he considered the unarmed, elderly woman a real threat to his safety, grabbed the lady's arms, forced them behind her back and twisted them up while handcuffing her.
The sudden, unexpected force caused Injeyan to wet her pants and left her suffering large, torn rotator cuff injuries in both shoulders that required multiple, costly surgeries as well as extensive rehabilitation.
In May 2012, she filed an excessive force lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court.
To city and police officials in Laguna Beach, the SWAT raid on Injeyan was a "valid" tactic "in connection with the investigation of a domestic terrorism incident for which her son was a person of interest."
(According to court records, the son was never charged.)
The police use of "reasonable force" during the execution of the search warrant is supported by California law, the defendants asserted in responding court filings.
Police and city officials also argued that cops should enjoy immunity protections for their conduct because they have to make "split-second judgments" in potentially dangerous situations--like, they asserted, their contact Injeyan.
"[Rahaeuser] was unsure of what awaited him inside the plaintiff's home, including who was present, or whether any of the occupants would be armed," wrote Philip D. Kohn, a lawyer representing the City of Laguna Beach.
Indeed, Kohn believes it is "irrelevant" whether Injeyan "posed some sort of threat" or not because cops conducing search warrants in present-day America don't have to justify their decisions to use force.
Nevertheless, according to Kohn, Rahaeuser's physical contact with the woman was "reasonable" and police acted professionally and compassionately throughout the incident.
This week, U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Reid O'Connell claimed she studied the case "in a light most favorable" to Injeyan but decided to grant pre-trial summary judgment for the police.
"The Court finds that [Laguna Beach police] enjoy immunity from the excessive force claims," opined O'Connell, who also declared that cops have a "cloak of immunity" even when acting "maliciously and without probable cause."
O'Connell then made sure Injeyan won't ever try to hold the police accountable again.
She ordered the woman to pay the defense legal bills or justify why she can't.
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