“See – this is what happens when you don’t cooperate with the police!” snarled Neil Uhrig as he pinned Melissa Miller to the floor of her home. It’s not clear whether Officer Uhrig was expressing satisfaction at the expense of the traumatized woman, or trying to tutor her screaming nine-year-old daughter, Julliet, who had watched in horror as Uhrig assaulted her mother, threw her against a couch, and then handcuffed her while thrusting a knee into the middle of her back.
It was nearly midnight when Uhrig and another officer arrived at the home Melissa shared with her boyfriend and their blended family. Julliet and a friend had noticed the police approaching the house, and they went to wake up Melissa. Still groggy from sleep, Melissa opened the door a crack, only to be startled fully awake when Uhrig – unbidden and without legal justification of any kind – shoved his foot inside the home and announced, “I’m going to search your house.”
“No, you are not,” Melissa replied, giving Uhrig a lawful order he was required to obey. Rather than doing so, he shoved the door open and committed felonious aggravated battery by seizing Melissa’s arm, twisting it behind her back, and throwing her to the ground. As he did so, Uhrig performed the familiar ritual of reciting the shared refrain of police and rapists: “Stop resisting!”
Although she was morally and legally entitled to resist the home invasion – through the use of lethal force, if necessary – Melissa had neither the means nor the opportunity to do so.
It wasn’t until Melissa was bound and helpless, and her family thoroughly intimidated, that Uhrig explained why he and his comrade had honored them with their august presence: He claimed that they were seeking a runaway juvenile who, they thought, might be in their home. One of the occupants calmly explained that the youngster had visited the house earlier that evening, but had left. She also provided a detailed description of what the runaway was wearing.
If Uhrig had been the kind of person suitable for civilized company, he would have knocked on the door, politely apologized for waking the occupants at an unreasonable hour, and explained the purpose of his visit. He had neither the legal right to search the home, nor the practical necessity to do so. If his truculent treatment of Melissa Miller had been justified by the urgency of finding the runaway, he would have left immediately after his questions had been answered.
Instead, Uhrig decided to build on the illegal search in the hope of retroactively justifying his assault on Melissa. Drawing his gun, Uhrig bellowed “Post Falls Police Department!” and barged further into the home.
Melissa’s house was connected to a separate apartment with a closed door. Uhrig thrust open the door to the other dwelling and immediately bellowed, “Grow!” In so doing he woke up a sleeping baby. In short order a second “grow” was found in the upstairs section of the house.
Returning to the living room, Uhrig and his partner in the home invasion, Officer Frank Bowne, suddenly “remembered” smelling a strong odor of “fresh marijuana” as they barged into the home – something they hadn’t mentioned until after the illegal search.
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Melissa and her boyfriend, Jason Dunnington, were both arrested on drug charges and informed that their children were being abducted – or, to use the dishonest official language, “taken into protective custody.” Before being taken to the police station, Melissa was allowed to use the bathroom – but only with Uhrig standing in the open doorway.
Two days later, Melissa and Jason were informed that the charges against them would be dropped. Six months later, without explanation, the charges were reinstated – only to be thrown out in a subsequent suppression hearing. The court ruled that because “the warrantless entry by police” into Melissa’s home on December 10, 2011 was entirely illegal, all of the evidence derived from it was inadmissible.
Melissa Miller has filed a federal lawsuit against Uhrig, his cohorts in the assault on her home and person, Post Falls Police Chief Scot Haug, and the city government. Uhrig should be prosecuted for aggravated assault, burglary (illegal entry of a domicile by force), terroristic threats, feloniousinjury to a child, and committing an “unnecessary assault by an officer.”
Rather than facing criminal charges or even the mildest form of administrative censure, Uhrighas been assigned to patrol Post Falls High School as a “School Resource Officer” (or SRO). Given Uhrig’s proven propensity for criminal violence, and his demonstrated ignorance of – or contempt for – the Fourth Amendment, this would appear to be a singularly unsuitable assignment.
That assessment assumes, of course, that the purpose of an SRO is to protect students from violence, rather than tutoring them about the supposed virtue of unconditional submission to “authority.” The latter job is a perfect fit for an individual who reflexively assaults people who assert their rights.
Melissa Miller’s behavior was that of what former Seattle Police Chief (and post-retirement police critic) Norm Stamper calls “a real American…That’s someone, when you say, ‘Roll down the window,’ says, ‘No,’ or who meets you at the threshold at home and says, ‘No, you can’t come in. Show me your warrant.’ ”
Uhrig’s conduct, by way of contrast, was that of a functionary better suited to a totalitarian society in which the law is irrelevant and subjects are required to “cooperate” with any demand that erupts from the gullet of a government-employed thug.
When contacted to respond to the allegations in Melissa Miller’s lawsuit, Uhrig replied that “per city policy” he is “unable to answer questions” – but insisted that “There are many facts that will come out in the case that was [sic] not documented in the complaint filing by Ms. Miller.”
Of course, the most significant fact in this case – namely, that Uhrig and his partner broke the law by invading Miller’s home and assaulting her in front of her family – was established beyond dispute at the October 2012 suppression hearing. From the instant he crossed the threshold of Miller’s home without a warrant or permission, Uhrig became an armed robber. In a genuinely civilized society, he would have been treated as such at the point of his crime – or, at least, subject to the appropriate criminal penalties after the fact.
Leaving aside for the nonce the fact that government shouldn’t be operating schools in the first place, Neil Uhrig could serve a useful function in a High School civics class as the living embodiment of what we have permitted our country to become. There would be some value in teaching teenagers that the superficially genial fellow in the peculiar accoutrements is the kind of person who could kick open your door at midnight on the flimsiest of pretexts and assault you in front of your family.