Around 9 p.m. on Friday, February 23, we were working in our respective offices and Rob suddenly said, “Hey, there’s someone out in the yard.”
Our yard is completely fenced, and to get into you either have to jump the fence or open the gate next to the garage. As soon as Rob said this, I noticed flashlights outside my window.
We both shot toward the closest outside door – to the porch and to the pool area, with the dogs right behind us. Nigel saw the men first and raced outside, barking ferociously, with Nika and Noah right behind him, howling up a storm. A porch light was on, but it was dark beyond it and all we saw were two figures with guns. Then we realized they were cops and those guns were out, ready to shoot.
One of them said, “Ma’am, restrain your dog or I’m going to shoot it.”
Huh? Really, you asshole?
I hurried over to Nigel, grabbed his collar and tried to pull him back onto the porch. Rob was herd in Nika and Noah away from the cops. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“I apologize for snapping at you like that, ma’am, but there’s been a robbery nearby and the suspect ran through your yard. Please go inside and lock your doors and don’t come out.”
Well, he apologized, but the bottom line is that if we owned a gun, Rob would have grabbed it and headed out onto the porch with it and probably gotten shot. As we stayed inside, watching the cops through the windows, we saw their German shepherd, on a scent that led them the length of our pool and then into the jungle of plants beyond it.
They stayed out in the yard for 10 or 15 minutes, combing through the jungle of plants, our dogs barking fiercely inside the house, then heard a chopper circling overhead. It circled for a long time and the cops eventually left. No explanation about who had been robbed or where this robbery had taken place.
Our daughter, Megan, posted the incident on her Facebook page. She knows attorneys and asked for their take. Ross Berlin, whom she has known since high school and who we consider to be a kind of son, is now an attorney in Minnesota. Here’s his take:
I’m not barred in Florida, but generally speaking, your parents have a right to privacy in the curtilage of their home. The curtilage includes a porch and a patio, but the law is more forgiving to police officers when it comes to yards, even when there is a fence, although your parents’ yard is quite small and therefore all of that may be curtilage, but the only near-guarantee I can make is that the screened-in portion of the back patio is the curtilage.
Add to this the fact that the officers were searching for someone I’m 99% sure they would claim to be dangerous. That means the “exigent circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement kicks in, which allows police to be basically wherever if they have probable cause to believe that danger is imminent. And even if your parents’ rights were violated in this situation, the police are largely immune from civil suit if they violate your rights but do so in the performance of their official duties, which this situation seems to fall into.
Your parents will likely not be able to recover compensation simply because the police frightened them and threatened the dog. So, in sum, it was probably legal under the exigent circumstances exception, and if it wasn’t, there is likely no remedy. This was clearly traumatizing and scary, and I’m sure they feel awful about it. Unfortunately, the best we can do if the police show up at our door is tell them they may not enter the home without a warrant.
So, in other words, if the cops are chasing a suspect they consider to be dangerous, it doesn’t matter if they trespass onto your property and threaten to shoot your dog because…well, that’s how they protect you.
Really? To me, this felt like a police state.