Another life — two of them actually — has been destroyed by a law enforcement smash-and-grab operation. Acting on information residing solely in the nostrils of a single law enforcement officer, Alabama deputies destroyed a house and took possession of everything of value in it. C.J. Ciaramella has more details at Reason.
On January 31, 2018, a Randolph County sheriff’s deputy showed up at the home of Greg and Teresa Almond in Woodland, Alabama, to serve Greg court papers in a civil matter.
Greg, 50, wasn’t home, but his wife Teresa told the deputy he would be back before long. About two hours later, after Greg had returned home, he heard loud knocking on the door. He remembers shouting “hang on” and walking toward the door when it suddenly flew open. The next thing he knew he was on the floor—ears ringing, dazed, wondering if he’d just been shot.
Several deputies from the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department had kicked in his front door and thrown a flashbang grenade at his feet. The officers handcuffed and detained the couple at gunpoint, then started searching their house. The deputy from earlier had reportedly smelled marijuana, and so a county drug task force was descending on the Almonds’ home, looking for illegal drugs.
The total haul in contraband from the drug raid was less than $ 50-worth of marijuana. In addition, an officer claimed he found a loose pill containing a controlled substance. It was a pill with a controlled substance, but it was a stretch to call it “loose.” Here’s the details on that part from the Almond’s lawsuit [PDF]:
Inside the Almond residence were two safes that housed an extensive collection of over 80 guns, some of which are antiques; approximately $ 8,000.00 cash; jewelry; and other personal items, including prescription medications. The Almonds were directed to open the safes. Inside the safes, the members of the drug task force claim to have found ONE LUNESTA PILL outside of the bottle in which it had been prescribed. Lunesta is a non-narcotic class IV controlled substance prescribed to aid sleep.
Using that one pill, the department charged the couple with felony drug possession, on top of the misdemeanor marijuana charge. These charges were taken to a grand jury which proceeded to do what grand juries do best: return indictments.
These drug charges — for one pill outside of a bottle and $ 50 of marijuana apparently actually possessed by their adult son — were the first criminal charges Greg or Theresa had ever faced, coming 30 years of marriage and a few grandchildren after anyone would have expected. The charges have been reduced to misdemeanors but this raid and arrest isn’t the end of the story.
Everything that was in the safes disappeared into the Department’s hands. So did a bunch of other stuff around the house, along with the cash Greg Almond had in his wallet. The warrant inventory contains far less then the Almonds claim the deputies took. The full list includes the firearms from the safes, $ 8,000 in cash, wedding rings, medications, antique guitars, a coin collection… pretty much anything the officers felt might have resale value.
As a result of this unexpected loss and the public accusations of drug dealing, the Almonds lost their business, their house, and any hope of earning a living going forward. All that’s left is the lawsuit. It’s loaded with Constitutional violations and other harms inflicted on the innocent couple by the Sheriff’s Department, but it’s a long shot considering the wealth of defenses available to government employees. As for the property taken, that’s an even longer shot, considering how quickly agencies liquidate property and how low the burden of proof needed to keep this property is in forfeiture cases.
It’s unlikely anything the government offers — if it’s held culpable for any of this — will undo the damage it did in this raid that uncovered a small amount of marijuana and a single pill. The raid that treated a couple in their 50s like youthful cartel members destroyed a house and two lives — and all of it came as the result of a single deputy claiming he smelled marijuana when he tried to serve civil papers earlier in the day. It only took two hours for the Sheriff’s Department to mobilize a small army armed with guns and explosives to extinguish the threat of a burning plant, based on a tip no one could ever possibly corroborate.
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