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Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Larry Chidester SWAT Raid: Boots in the Wrong House

     At ten on the night of May 25, 2005, the Utah County Metro SWAT team was about to break into a house on South State Street in Springville to confiscate methamphetamine, guns, and other contraband they might find in the dwelling. The Sierra Team, one of the four Utah County SWAT groups involved in the raid, pulled into the neighborhood first. The six snipers in the unit took up positions 50 yards from the target house. The Sierra snipers were in place to watch the house and report any activity at or near the dwelling to the other SWAT units as they moved into their attack positions. From this point on, any bystander who happened onto the surveillance are would be viewed through the cross-hairs of rifle scopes.

     The remaining 24 SWAT officers arrived at the scene. Alpha Team members, taking up positions 70 yards from the house, would break into the dwelling through the front entrance. Team Charlie had the side door. The Bravo squad, setting up behind a wooden fence in the back, 500 yards from the target, would enter the  house through the rear door.

     At 10:30, the Alpha, Charlie, and Bravo teams were supposed to reach the target at the same time, tossing flashbang grenades into the front, side, and rear of the  house. Because of some kind of miscommunication, the Bravo team entered the back door ahead of the other two units, which were moving toward the dwelling from 65 yards away.

     Forty-year-old Larry Chidester lived in the basement quarters of his parents' place next door to the SWAT target. Awakened by the flashbang explosions coming from the other side of his house, Larry came out his side door to investigate what he thought was a car accident. Instead, he saw a group of SWAT officers charging toward his neighbor's house. Before he got back inside, Larry heard one of the officers yell, "There's one?" Alpha Team member Jason Parker, a reserve sheriff's deputy, ran up to Larry and ordered him to the ground. Each time Larry lowered his arms to help himself down, Deputy Parker, his rifle pointed at Chidester's head, yelled, "Keep you hands up!"

     "I'm not resisting! I'm not resisting!" Larry pleaded as Deputy Parker tackled him to the ground and kept him there for a minute or so with his knee pressed into the middle of his back. Although not seriously injured, Chidester had the wind knocked out of him, and suffered abrasions to his forehead, nose, shoulder, back, and knees.

    As Larry Chidester lay pinned to the ground under reserve deputy Parker's knee, Sergeant Deke Taylor and another Alpha Team officer stormed into the Chidester house. Deputy Taylor encountered Larry's mother, Emily, in the kitchen, and at gunpoint, ordered her to the floor. The other officer found Lawrence Chidester in the bedroom sitting on the edge of his bed putting on his trousers. This deputy grabbed Mr. Chidester by the shirt and threw him to the floor, ripping the garment off his back. Shortly after the two Alpha Team officers left the Chidesters shaking and bruised, a third deputy entered the house and apologized for the armed intrusion.

     Sheriff Jim Tracy insisted that the Chidester incident did not fall into the category of a wrong-house raid. His men were merely protecting themselves by taking control of the target area. From a law enforcement point of view, the only mistake involved the deputy's on-site apology, which suggested police wrongdoing.

     The Chidesters filed suit against the Utah County Sheriff's Office and deputies Jason Parker and Deke Taylor individually for violating their Fourth Amendment rights of privacy. The deputies raised the issue of qualified police immunity, arguing that they had acted in good faith. A federal district court judge, in August 2006, ruled that the Chidesters had grounds to sue the officers as individuals. The deputies appealed this decision, and in March 2008, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Deputy Parker's actions did protect him from personal liability under the immunity doctrine. However, the appeals court judges did not bar the plaintiffs from suing Utah County and Deputy Taylor as an individual. The lawsuit is pending. 

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