CALDWELL -- A Caldwell family has filed a lawsuit in federal court after armed police mistakenly kicked in their apartment door while looking for the family's neighbor.
The incident happened last year on February 21 around 11:30 p.m. The Johnsons filed a lawsuit in federal court in November, saying they were illegally searched and their Constitutional rights were violated.
"Not acceptable. Being put in handcuffs. Kicking our door in. What's that all about? No. Not acceptable. Not acceptable," David Johnson said.
The Johnsons name the cities of Caldwell and Nampa, the police departments, the police chiefs and officers in the lawsuit. This month, both departments filed court papers denying accusations that the Johnsons' rights were violated.
Johnson: 'We didn't know who it was'
David Johnson says he, his wife, and his adult son were all asleep when the police came to their door. He says there was no knock and no identification by police.
"We had no idea. No idea what was going on. Nothing. We were sound asleep when it started," Johnson said. "We didn't know who it was, and as I walked up to the door, pieces of the door were hitting me."
Johnson says he unlocked the deadbolt and came face-to-face with a large gun.
"There's a gun pointed at me. No one said anything. Next thing I know somebody grabbed my arm, pulled me out and handcuffed me. Just like that," Johnson said.
After they brought him out, he says the police searched his home with a police canine and eventually got the neighbor they were looking for out of the next-door apartment as well. He says police told him they were looking into a "homicide in progress," gave him a business card, and then left.
Why police went to that apartment building
According to the lawsuit filed, the Johnsons say Caldwell Police reports show the officers were going into their building looking for the next-door neighbor.
The reason, according to the court documents filed by the Johnsons, was because a woman reported she had been arguing with the neighbor and he had threatened her with violence. Further, the report indicates the neighbor had posted photos on Facebook that included a bloody, naked woman and a picture of himself holding guns.
The filed response from Caldwell Police indicates officers were concerned the neighbor had weapons inside the apartment, which is why they planned to go in without knocking or identifying themselves.
Police recording: 'I don't know the [apartment] number'
The attorney representing the Johnson family in their federal case, Renee Karel, provided KTVB with a copy of a recording of police going to the Johnson's apartment, which she says came from police.
For several minutes in the first tape, you can hear officers discussing their plan, quite a bit of silence and some police radio. Eventually, a person who appears to be an officer starts talking about which apartment they will go to.
"I'm not sure of the number. It's going to be at the very top of the staircase, second floor, immediately on our left. I don't know the number," an unidentified officer says.
Those directions lead to the Johnsons' apartment. The second recording begins with what appears to be the police kicking the door, breaking it and then seeing inside the apartment.
That part of the recording includes several voices: "[Dog barking]... Show us your hands! Show me your hands! Out with your hands out! This dog will bite you! Come out! First person, hands up. Walk out."
The recording continues as police go and get the neighbor, who records indicate police were actually looking for.
Lawsuit alleges 4th Amendment violations
The Johnsons make multiple claims against the police including unlawful seizure, unlawful search of apartment, destruction of property, excessive force, false imprisonment, and 4th Amendment violations.
"Nobody wants this to happen, and nobody should have it happen," Johnson said.
They are asking for money for damage to the door, money for humiliation and emotional distress, for both departments to update and review policies and procedures, attorneys fees, and anything else the court deems appropriate.
Nampa, Caldwell respond to allegations in court
Nampa filed a response this week, saying statements related to Nampa's involvement "mischaracterize the facts". They confirm getting a complaint and doing a welfare check, but say anything at the Caldwell apartment didn't involve Nampa.
"Nampa Defendants were not present at the so-called raid of Plaintiff's apartment and are therefore without sufficient knowledge, information or belief regarding the bulk of those allegations," the document reads.
In Caldwell's response, the city admits armed officers did not knock, kicked in the Johnsons' door, told the family to comply, and handcuffed David Johnson. The city denies officers searched the apartment, saying they "swept" the apartment.
Further, the city says officers kicked in the door "acting upon information provided by a witness through the Nampa Police Department... to prevent imminent danger to a female or other individuals present".
The city says the officers had true information and with that had reason to attempt to find the potential suspect and victim by conducting "a no-knock, no-warrant welfare check". The department says procedures and policies are proper.
Former Idaho Attorney General gives legal background on search and seizure
Former Idaho Attorney General David Leroy, who is not involved in this case, gave the legal background on search and seizure: To go into a home, he says police usually need a warrant from a judge, permission from the owner or renter, or a belief someone is in imminent danger.
"Typically if you've got somebody screaming, please don't murder me, that would fall in the imminent danger category. Anything less than that becomes a weaker case," Leroy said.
He says police do have legal immunity if they accidentally go in the wrong house if their information and intent appeared to be good. He did not give specific opinions on this case, but explained the concept a court would weigh in a similar situation.
"The police have a qualified immunity when they enter into some place wrongly on misinformation if they're acting reasonably and reliably, and the information itself appeared to be good, then the police generally have an immunity from liability in those kinds of lawsuits," Leroy said. "However, if they're acting unreasonably or in excess of the other rules, if they're acting negligently and a reasonable police officer would not have broken down that door, they can be held liable. Those are jury questions."