By Anthony Pignataro
The night of Friday, April 15, 2011 was supposed to be a quiet one for April and Norman Freeland, a retired couple who’ve lived in Kihei for the last 22 years. They had over a few dinner guests, including April’s 86-year-old mother. It was around 9pm when Norman first heard noises coming from his front lawn. Norman had just reached the front door when it suddenly burst open and “men with military-style guns” raced inside, according to a lawsuit filed a few months ago against the County of Maui.
The men–who allegedly did not identify themselves–were apparently Maui police officers on a raid, states the suit. The only problem: the police seem to have busted into the wrong house.
“Here is the one place where you’re supposed to feel safe,” said Sam MacRoberts, the Wailuku attorney with the Law Office of Philip H. Lowenthal, who’s handling the Freeland’s case. “Their house was raided by the people who are supposed to be protecting you, and there’s no real explanation.”
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court on Oct. 14, 2011, lists the County of Maui, Maui Police Chief Gary Yabuta and Maui Police Officer Jerald Perkett as defendants (the names of other officers are unknown appear only as “John Doe 1-20”). Though key details are missing in the complaint (it lacks key details concerning the raiders’ exact clothing and weapon types, to say nothing of identifying just a single officer), it nonetheless makes for chilling reading.
“The men screamed and yelled at the Freelands as they entered the Freeland’s home,” it states. “A man grabbed Norman Freeland [who is 72] by the wrist and forcibly took him outside. Another man grabbed April Freeland [who is 63] and forcibly took her outside. A man with a combat-type weapon held the Freelands captive.”
The complaint states that on the lanai, one officer told the Freelands that they had a warrant, though MacRoberts says the Freelands never got a copy of it. “They left the Freelands a search warrant number,” he said. “But we haven’t gotten a copy of the warrant.”
According to the lawsuit, the Freelands repeatedly told officers that they were raiding the wrong house. “The men overturned furniture,” states the complaint. “They men searched the Freeland’s drawers. The men created a mess in the Freeland’s home.”
At one point, an officer asked the Freelands if they knew of a “Kim.” April Freeland denied knowing any such individual and repeated her insistence that they had the wrong house (the address to the house is “clearly and prominently posted on the fence,” according to the complaint).
This allegedly went on for a half hour.
Then the police left. They apparently took nothing with them, which isn’t surprising because they had located no drugs, weapons or contraband of any kind, claims the suit. And neither the police department nor the county made any kind of follow-up, though MacRoberts did say a single officer showed up at the Freeland’s door on July 13, 2011 (“Norman told him to contact us,” MacRoberts said, and the officer went away).
According to the suit, the Freelands are seeking $250,000 in damages, another $1 million in punitive damages as well as court costs and attorney fees. MacRoberts said his office is currently preparing to conduct discovery in the case, and may soon start taking depositions.
The county’s response to the lawsuit is curious, to say the least. In its official answer to the complaint, filed in court on Nov. 30, 2011, the county’s Corporation Counsel’s office agrees that the Freelands have a right “to be free from unlawful arrests… [and] unlawful searches,” but they plead ignorance as to the specific allegations concerning the night of April 15. “County defendants are without information and knowledge as to the allegations… of the Complaint to form an opinion to the truth or falsity of such allegations and, on such basis, deny same,” states the response.
Deputy Corporation Counsel attorney Moana Lutey did not return a call for comment. According to county spokesman Rod Antone, the officers handled themselves “professionally.”
“The officers got on scene and they cleared the area,” Antone said. “When they discovered it was the wrong house, they apologized. No one was injured, nothing was damaged. They even told these people how they could file a complaint.”
MacRoberts denied that the officers apologized to the Freelands.
“The police had no legal right to invade April and Norman Freeland’s home and we believe they were not acting in good faith,” MacRoberts said in a press release from his law office. “We hope this suit changes the way our police force does business. The Chief of Police and the County have to stand up, take responsibility, and demand their police officers not behave as armed bullies. We cannot tolerate or accept this kind of behavior. If citizens do not have the courage to stand up for their rights, they will lose them.”