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On The Front Lines

U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Rein in Aggressive Knock-And-Talk Policing Practices, Fails to Hold Police Accountable for Shooting Innocent Man

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In refusing to hear the case of Young v. Borders, the U.S. Supreme Court has failed to hold police accountable for shooting and killing an innocent homeowner during the course of a middle-of-the-night “knock and talk” police tactic gone awry. The Court’s refusal to review the case lets stand a lower court ruling that exonerates police who, while executing a “knock and talk” investigation of a speeding incident, banged on the wrong door at 1:30 am, failed to identify themselves as police, and then repeatedly shot and killed the innocent homeowner who answered the door while holding a gun in self-defense.

Pointing out that 26-year-old Andrew Scott had committed no crime and never fired a single bullet or lifted his firearm against police, The Rutherford Institute filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, arguing that the late-night raid at Scott’s home was an abuse of society’s norms, a trespass on Scott’s property and a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

“Government officials insist that there is nothing unlawful, unreasonable or threatening about the prospect of armed police dressed in SWAT gear knocking on doors in the middle of night and ‘asking’ homeowners to engage in warrantless ‘knock-and-talk’ sessions,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “However, as we have learned from the Andrew Scott case, there’s an inherent danger in such heavy-handed police requests. If the courts continue to sanction such aggressive, excessive, coercive tactics, it will give police further incentive to terrorize and kill American citizens without fear of repercussion.”

On July 15, 2012, Deputy Richard Sylvester pursued a speeding motorcyclist, which he later had cause to believe might be armed and had been spotted at a nearby apartment complex. Around 1:30 a.m., Sylvester and three other deputies began knocking on doors in the apartment complex in the vicinity of the parked motorcycle, starting with Apt. 114, which was occupied by Andrew Scott and Amy Young, who were playing video games and had no connection to the motorcycle or any illegal activity. The deputies assumed tactical positions, guns drawn and ready to shoot. Sylvester, without announcing he was a police officer, then banged loudly and repeatedly on the door. Unnerved by the banging at such a late hour, Andrew Scott retrieved his handgun before opening the door. When Scott saw a shadowy figure holding a gun outside his door, he retreated into his apartment only to have Sylvester immediately open fire. Sylvester fired six shots, three of which hit and killed Scott.

A trial court subsequently ruled in favor of the police, ruling that Scott was to blame for choosing to retrieve a handgun before opening the door. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that Sylvester was protected by “qualified immunity,” reasoning that the use of excessive force did not violate “clearly established law.” In asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, Rutherford Institute attorneys warned of the danger to the public from the increasing use of “knock and talk” tactics by police, and asked the Court to rein in aggressive “knock and talk” practices, which have become thinly veiled, warrantless attempts by which citizens are coerced and intimidated into “talking” with heavily armed police who “knock” on their doors in the middle of the night.

On the same day that it refused to hear the case of Young v. Borders, the Supreme Court also refused to hear the case of a Texas man whose home was subject to a no-knock, SWAT-team style forceful entry and raid based solely on the suspicion that there were legally-owned firearms in his household.


Case History

September 20, 2017 • Rutherford Institute Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Rein in Aggressive, Coercive, Potentially Violent Knock-and-Talk Practices by Militarized Police

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