The thin grey line between federal justice and a cheesy Bruce Willis movie just got a little fainter.
In a substantially redacted summary judgment, a federal district judge in San Diego named Gonzalo P. Curiel (above) ruled last Wednesday that a Hells Angel named Maurice Peter “Pete” Eunice could not sue the Drug Enforcement Administration for property damage caused by a very violent raid on the Hells Angels clubhouse in El Cajon, California on August 2, 2011. Eunice owns the property and has rented it to the motorcycle club since 1996. Eunice filed two suits against multiple federal and local policemen on June 29, 2012 and January 2, 2013. The court consolidated the two suits in September 2013.
The raid seemed to be clearly intended to dramatically punish the Hells Angels charter by destroying the clubhouse on television. Although the DEA told the television crews that covered the stunt that the Agency was serving arrest warrants, the only occupant of the building at the time of the raid was a dog named Molly.
Pete Eunice’s Version
In the suit filed in January 2013, Eunice told the story this way:
“At the time that the agents blew up the doors and windows to his property, they knew that Mr. Eunice owned these properties. These agents knew Mr. Eunice’s contact information and they knew how to obtain the keys to the properties. Agents knew that there were no tenants inside the building. They did not contact Mr. Eunice. They instead contacted members of the media and multiple media outlets came to the properties.”
“Instead of contacting Mr. Eunice, they blew up the doors and windows using multiple explosives. These agents knew that there was no reason to blow up Mr. Eunice’s property. They acted out of malice in order to intimidate Mr. Eunice. These agents held animus and ill will toward members of the Hells Angels. They wanted to punish, deter and intimidate Mr. Eunice who leased his properties to the Hells Angels to use as their club house. Mr. Eunice had a due process right to be free from the arbitrary exercise of the powers of government. These agents including Doe defendants made a deliberate decision to deprive Mr. Eunice of his property.”
“After they caused explosions and a fire at the property, causing extensive damage to the frame and foundation of the buildings, Patrick Ryan called Mr. Eunice to let him know that he should come out to the property. The explosion was of such magnitude that the City had to shut off the main pipes that run deep beneath the properties due to the damage to the pipes and water leaks. Agents Ryan, Kelly, Mervos, Watrous, Kingkade and DOE defendants knew that three-year old dog Molly, was in the courtyard of the properties. They knew that using explosives would frighten the dog and cause physical harm to her. After the explosions, these agents let Molly out of the property and out into traffic on El Cajon Boulevard.”
“After agents gained entry into the properties, they continued their destruction by smashing windows and throwing the photographs off of the walls and stepping on the faces of the people depicted in the photographs.”
“When Mr. Eunice arrived on his properties, he was met with six to nine law enforcement officers around the perimeter. Two officers carrying AR-15s and other law enforcement officials kept him outside for approximately thirty to forty minutes as they continued their destruction inside the properties. Patrick Ryan handed Mr. Eunice a copy of the warrant. Agents told Mr. Eunice that they were turning the building over to him to deal with the destruction.”
Eunice sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, trespass to land and private nuisance. For almost two years, the governmental defendants whittled down the case with a blizzard of motions until the only claims that remained were for trespass and nuisance. And, in the end Judge Curiel seemed to ignore common sense by ruling that there were flaws in Eunice’s case.
First, the damage was done during the service of a federal search warrant. Patrick Ryan, the DEA agent in charge of the operation, presumably because he was serving a warrant on Hells Angels, decreed that it was a “high risk” search. And, since Eunice did not legally “challenge the validity of the search warrant,” it was a legal search.
Next, Curiel made much of the fact that it was the El Cajon Police Swat Team that blew up the clubhouse, not the DEA. Eunice had argued that it might as well have been the DEA because the two police forces were cooperating. But Curiel wrote that, “based on the facts before the Court, there is no indication that the DEA and the Swat team worked jointly in the execution of the entry into the Clubhouse. Moreover, Plaintiff provides no legal authority or additional facts that liability can be imputed to the United States of America based on joint action. Accordingly, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that there are genuine issues of material facts as to whether Defendant United States of America can be liable….”
Eunice had also argued that blowing up the clubhouse was actionable because it was legally a nuisance. But again, for the third time in his judgment, Cruel decided that the left hand and the right hand in the destruction of the clubhouse were totally independent of one another.
Curiel wrote: “Again, the threshold issue is whether the DEA can be liable for the conduct of the Swat team. Plaintiff alleges that since the Swat team was under the DEA’s direction, it is liable for private nuisance based on the use of the flash bangs and breaching charges. However, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that there are genuine issues of material facts as to whether Defendant can be liable for a claim of private nuisance. The facts show that the Swat team, not the DEA, executed the flash bangs and breaching charges. Plaintiff presents no additional facts or case law that Defendant would be liable for the acts of the Swat team.”
What Curiel did, after 18 months, was legitimize the DEA’s plausible deniability. “Based on the above, the Court grants Defendant United States of America’s supplemental motion for summary judgment on the two remaining causes of action for trespass to land and private nuisance. The hearing set for October 10, 2014 shall be vacated. The Clerk of Court shall issue judgment and close the case.”
It is a judgment that will probably make official scoundrels everywhere smile. Victims of official overkill, not so much.