FRESNO, CA – As TFTP previously reported, a married couple claimed Fresno sheriff’s officers destroyed their house by using it as a training ground for a teargas-wielding SWAT team, 50 vehicles, two helicopters, a K-9 unit and a fire truck — because an unarmed homeless man had been found in their closet. Now, after attempting to seek compensation for their incredible loss for over 3 years, the Jessens were told this month that they can kick rocks, the government who destroyed their home, owes them jack squat.
Last week, according to Courthouse News, the Ninth Circuit court of appeals upheld a ruling that the Fresno County and the city of Clovis are not liable for negligence claimed by David and his wife Gretchen Jessen’s lawsuit, because the damage to their home was caused by the officers’ “discretionary acts.” Seriously.
As TFTP reported in 2017, David and Gretchen Jessen sued Fresno County and the City of Clovis in Fresno County Court. They say the unconstitutional assault on their home was “excessive, unreasonable, violent, destructive … intrusive … unnecessary and unreasonable.”
Indeed, it was. But the court apparently didn’t agree.
In their lawsuit, the Jessens, who are farmers, claimed in their complaint that the sheriff and police used their house as a military battleground for training “because the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and/or Clovis Police Department had found, by accident, the perfect location to conduct a training exercise on a rural home, on a dead-end street, in rural Fresno County, where ‘civilians’ were not present, ‘civilians’ were not going to congregate, ‘civilians’ were not going to observe or interfere with the military training assault on the Jessens’ home and the situation posed no risk of injury to the officers.”
This nightmare for the Jessens started on June 11, 2016 when David Jessen received a call from the sheriff’s office telling him that his house may have been broken into. David called his wife and hurried home to find four patrol cars with officers scattered around the perimeter. One of the cops was holding a bullhorn and was yelling “come out,” and “hands up.”
Cops told the Jessens that a homeless man had broken into their home after being kicked out of a vacant house nearby. When police asked David if he had any weapons inside, David gave officers an honest answer, telling them that he had two unloaded shotguns and a loaded .357 magnum. However, he told the cops that all of them hidden so well that only he could find them.
After telling police he had guns, police then claimed the homeless man inside — who was unarmed for the entire duration of the standoff — had threatened to shoot anyone who came inside and asked him and his family, who had just arrived, to wait elsewhere.
After taking his family to a friend’s house 10 minutes away, Jessen drove back to unload some farm equipment and found law enforcement cars lining the road to his house for a quarter of a mile, plus two ambulances, a fire truck, and two helicopters circling above.
“Bewildered and baffled” at the show of force, Jessen says, he drove away and was passed by a SWAT vehicle and a crisis negotiation motor home heading toward his house.
Several hours later, deputies told him he could go back home. On the way there, Jessen counted at least 55 law enforcement vehicles. After parking and walking to his house, a SWAT officer told him the “operation” was concluded, and a second officer handed him a card and said “‘we have insurance for this.’”
The Jessen’s home was so badly destroyed that it was unlivable. Tech Dirt described the damage as follows:
Five rooms were teargassed. Four doors and seven windows were destroyed, along with 90 feet of fencing that was rolled over by SWAT vehicles. An entire wall was ripped out as well.
The “criminal” who required a teargas-wielding SWAT team, 50 vehicles, two helicopters, a K-9 unit, fire truck, and an two ambulances was local homeless man, Chanley Un. He had stolen an ice cream bar, some milk, and half a tomato from the Jessens and police destroyed their home to catch him. A video taken of Un’s arrest showed that this “dangerous” man wasn’t even wearing shoes.
The Jessens were reasonable and extremely humble in their request for damages, asking for just $150,000 to repair their home. Yet the appellate panel denied it.
“The record evidence shows that defendants have a general policy of obtaining warrants prior to entry, of using reasonable force, and for the reasonable use of tear gas. The Jessens failed to establish a triable issue that any of these policies caused any constitutional injuries, or that there was a ‘persistent and widespread’ violation of these policies amounting to an unconstitutional custom or practice,” the panel wrote.
“Even assuming, without deciding, that defendants’ training policies are inadequate, there is no evidence that ‘the need for more or different training [was] so obvious’ that defendants were deliberately indifferent to the Jessens’ rights,” the panel wrote.
Courthouse News reports that under the case Conway v. County of Tuolumne, the California Court of Appeal found “discretionary act immunity applies to the selection of the means to effectuate an arrest, including the decision to deploy a SWAT team in effectuating an arrest, and the subsequent decision to deploy tear gas.”
“Under Conway, Defendants are immune from liability, and the district court properly granted summary judgment for Defendants on the Jessens’ negligence claim,” the panel wrote.
After the ruling, a spokesperson for Fresno County released a statement noting that they were “very pleased with the decision by the Ninth Circuit again confirming that the Sheriff’s Office acted reasonably and in the interest of public safety under all the circumstances.”