Overkill: California couple sues police for wrecking their house on homeless hunt
David and Gretchen Jessen, who are farmers in rural Fresno County, say in the suit that the authorities justified the "military-like training action" that destroyed their house on June 11, 2016, as an operation to apprehend a homeless intruder who, in the end, only took some food from the house refrigerator, according to Courthouse News.
The Jessens' lawsuit says that the Fresno County Sheriff's Department and the Clovis Police Department essentially used their secluded rural home to stage a SWAT team training exercise that involved more than 50 law enforcement vehicles, two helicopters, and a teargas-firing SWAT team, among others.
The "excessive, unreasonable, violent, destructive" action by law enforcement occurred "because the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and/or Clovis Police Department had found, by accident, the perfect location to conduct a training exercise on a rural home, on a dead-end street, in rural Fresno County, where 'civilians' were not present, 'civilians' were not going to congregate, 'civilians' were not going to observe or interfere with the military training assault on the Jessens' home and the situation posed no risk of injury to the officers," the complaint says.
The couple said their house incurred more than $150,000 of damages and that they can no longer live in the teargas-stained dwelling.
"The magnitude of the damage to the Jessens’ home was unreasonable and unjustified, needlessly implemented to capture a single, surrounded, unarmed, hungry homeless person who posed no danger to anyone," the complaints says.
The Jessens allege that they were notified that a homeless man had broken into their home after he was found and kicked out of a nearby vacant house. David Jessen told authorities he had three guns in the house but they were too well-hidden to pose a problem to law enforcement. Jessen drove his family to a nearby location and returned to his house. On the way, he said he saw more than 50 law enforcement vehicles lined up along the road to his house as two helicopters circled the sky, according to the complaint.
Jessen said he soon left the area, passing a crisis negotiation motor home and a SWAT vehicle on the way. Hours later, when authorities told him he could return to the house, Jessen was handed a card by an officer who said: "we have insurance for this."
The house was destroyed, the Jessens claim. Doors were ripped off of hinges, walls were torn out of the foundation, six rooms had been teargassed, windows were shattered and the SWAT vehicle had run through more than 90 feet of fencing.
The family no longer resides at the house due to the more than $150,000 in damages inflicted on the building, including teargas use that required the replacement of carpet and drywall.
The Jessens are seeking compensatory damages, special damages, court costs and attorney fees. The Fresno County Sheriff's Department and the Clovis Police Department did not comment on the lawsuit.