Attorney Wendy Quinn successfully obtained affirmation from the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit of the grant of summary judgment in a suit alleging that members of the Worcester Police Department SWAT team and Detective Bureau violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights in the execution of a search warrant for evidence of an armed sexual assault at her apartment.
The SWAT team entry followed a report of a sexual assault at gunpoint by two men. The victim escaped and identified the apartment where the assault took place to a detective. Another detective applied for, and was granted, a search warrant that afternoon for entry into the apartment. When SWAT officers made entry, they encountered a visibly pregnant female, the Plaintiff, who came out from a concealed location behind a curtain, and so the officers quickly lowered their weapons, escorted her to the hallway, and searched the apartment for possible threats, evidence of the assault, and the victim’s belongings she left behind. The detectives determined that the apartment was not as the victim had described and departed approximately twenty minutes after they had arrived. During the search, a Spanish-speaking detective arrived to communicate to the Plaintiff the reason for the search.
Three years after the incident, the Plaintiff filed suit in federal court alleging claims for violation of her constitutional rights for unreasonable search and seizure and unlawful entry and state tort claims for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. Plaintiff alleged that the events caused her to prematurely deliver her baby, although she was at over thirty-seven weeks gestation. Attorney Quinn filed summary judgment on behalf of all Defendants, and the Appeals Court agreed that the federal District Court properly granted Defendants’ motion, affirming the decision as to all counts. A detective was entitled to qualified immunity as a member of the SWAT entry team because it was not clearly established that the officers were required to either knock and announce in this situation, or drop their weapon in fewer than several seconds when the apartment could have contained armed suspects. Other detectives were not involved in the initial entry, and so they were granted summary judgment on that basis. The Court likewise found that the tort claims could not be maintained as a matter of law. The negligent investigation claim against the City of Worcester could not be maintained because the officers had probable cause to search the apartment pursuant to the warrant and, alternatively, their decisions in relation to the investigation and entry were discretionary and covered by municipal immunity.