Is it unconstitutional for police to occupy a home (and eat your food)?
September 25, 2013
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices Staff Writer
The Third Amendment could be considered the Rodney Dangerfield of the Bill of Rights – it gets no respect. For more than 200 years, the Third Amendment has been invoked very few times; the Supreme Court often strikes down claims.
But that hasn’t stopped a Nevada man from suing his town’s police force, four police officers and other police agencies. He contends they violated his family’s Third Amendment rights when he refused to allow them to use his home during a neighborhood disturbance.
The Third Amendment states, “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” The amendment was adopted in 1791 in response to the actions of British troops who barged into colonists’ homes and stayed for long periods.
In 2011, Anthony Mitchell of Henderson, Nev., refused to allow a SWAT team to enter his home during a police standoff with one of his neighbors. Phillip White Jr. had barricaded himself and a child inside his home and refused to come out.
According to the lawsuit, Henderson Police Officer Christopher Worley told Mitchell that police needed to “occupy his home in order to gain a ‘tactical advantage’ against the occupant of the neighboring house.”
The police called Mitchell to request the use of his home, but when he refused, they went to the house and smashed down his door, pointing guns at Mitchell and cursing at him, the lawsuit said.
When the police entered Mitchell’s home, he dropped to the floor and covered his head, the lawsuit said. The officers pepper-sprayed him and his dog before removing him and occupying his house, the lawsuit said. Mitchell was charged with obstructing an officer.
The police also contacted Anthony Mitchell’s father, Michael, and told him to go to a command center they had established in the neighborhood. The police wanted Michael Mitchell, who also lives in the neighborhood, to try to talk White into surrendering, but he declined. When Michael Mitchell tried to leave, police arrested him and occupied his home, too.
The police say that they can commandeer any house or vehicle if necessary to end a possibly violent situation. It’s like in the movies, when the hero cop commandeers a cab to follow the crooks in a high-speed chase.
The Mitchells sued the Henderson Police Department, the North Las Vegas Police Department, and four police officers, arguing that their Third Amendment rights had been violated.
The Mitchells’ lawsuit hinges on one crucial claim: That the police can be considered “soldiers.” The Mitchells’ lawyer, Frank Cofer, said the police should be considered soldiers because of the military-style tactics that he said were used. “And after entering the houses, they drank water, ate food, enjoyed the air conditioning,” he said. “That struck me as quartering.”
Not everyone agrees with the Mitchells. John Yoo, a professor at the University of California at Berkley’s law school, argues that it will be very difficult for the Mitchells to claim that the police are soldiers and that therefore, he and his father are protected by the Third Amendment.
Yoo said he believes that the Mitchells should be given restitution based on violations of state and federal laws, but that the Third Amendment claim will likely be rejected in court.
What do you think?
Were the Mitchells’ Third Amendment rights violated? Should police be considered soldiers in cases like this? Do police have a right to enter a house without the owner’s consent in order to end a possibly violent incident? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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