Report: Elderly Couple's Low Electric Bill Earned Them a Battering Ram to the Door - 4th Amendment Violations
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department was forced to settle with a Lake Elsinore, California, couple after raiding both of their homes without warrants.
Sheriff’s deputies allegedly smashed in the doors of the two homes on Aug. 5, 2021, on suspicion that the elderly couple was growing marijuana based on their low consumption of electricity.
“The deputies believed the defendants were stealing power to grow marijuana because their power consumption was low, and they said as much,” their attorney, Alex Coolman, told the local newspaper, The Press-Enterprise, in an email.
Neither raid found evidence of a crime, The Press-Enterprise reported. The couple sued in March the sheriff’s department in March.
The couple was identified by the newspaper as Chen-Chen Hwang, 67, and her husband, Jiun-Tsong Wu, 75.
Their complaint stated that “deputies used a battering ram to break down the side door of the couple’s first house in a quiet subdivision of Lake Elsinore,” according to The Press-Enterprise.
No one was home at the time.
“This was a very strange and frightening incident,” Hwang said in a news release from Coolman’s office.
“We did nothing to deserve this, and it made us feel unsafe in our own homes.”
The retired couple alleged “deputies violated the Fourth Amendment by doing a warrantless search of both homes, and ‘unreasonably’ detaining [CH] by ‘accosting her while armed and in uniform,'” the news release states.
The lawsuit outlined the searches of the couple’s two homes.
According to the news release, after the initial search at the first home, the officers turned their attention to the couple’s second house where Hwang was home alone.
Hwang and Wu, alleged in the suit that the deputies broke down “multiple doors inside” and spent several hours searching the couple’s homes and “rummaging through the couple’s belongings”
The Press-Enterprise reported, “The 67-year-old said in the release that ‘uniformed, armed deputies banged on the door.’”
The officers told the retired woman that they had already raided the couple’s other home, “because they believed she was involved in growing marijuana, and demanded to come inside,” the release stated.
According to the statement from their attorney, Hwang, “believing she was being directly accused of a crime by a group of uniformed deputies, and she was not free to terminate the encounter,” spoke to officers at the second home. Furthermore, she “thought the deputies were soldiers because of their attire,” according to the statement.
The attorney’s news release also explained that Wu “spoke to [Sgt. Julio] Olguin on the phone and asked deputies to leave the house … In this conversation, Olguin ‘admitted that the searches of the homes were illegal.’”
The lawsuit was dismissed on Aug. 15 after a settlement was reached with Olguin and other officers involved in the alleged raid, who were named as defendants.
“The county paid $136,000 to settle a federal civil rights suit filed by Chen-Chen Hwang, 67, and her husband, Jiun-Tsong Wu, 75,” Coolman said in the release.
Cool news: we reached a $136,000 settlement in a suit stemming from an illegal search of my clients’ home in Lake Elsinore – a search prompted by their low electricity consumption. The clients are thrifty and incredibly sweet retirees, not marijuana growers or power thieves.
— Alex Coolman (@unchart72) August 16, 2022
“The operation found no evidence of a crime,” Coolman said in the release. “[D]eputies were interested in the couple’s low electricity consumption, which some law enforcement agencies believe is linked to illegal marijuana growing.”
The couples’ attorney also alleged there have been other raids on homes in Riverside County, with police operating under the same assumption that people were growing marijuana based on low energy consumption, but he said, “This is the only one I know of where there was no warrant and no apparent justification.”
The retired couple is “thrifty” and utilizes solar panels to reduce their electricity consumption, according to their lawyer.
“The way the Sheriff handled this situation was unreasonable and illegal,” Coolman said. “Nobody’s home should be broken into based on a hunch about their use of electricity.”
The Western Journal has reached out to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for comment and will update this article with any response.
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