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              Los Angeles police officers close off a city street after two police officers were shot and wounded in an attack outside a police station in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles on Tuesday June 25, 2013.  A black-clad gunman ambushed two detectives returning to a police station early Tuesday, but they received only minor injuries and were helping in the hunt for the attacker, police said. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Lawsuit: Police seize homes, arrest owners to investigate neighbor

A family is suing the city of Henderson, Nevada for violating their Third Amendment rights — the constitutional prohibition against quartering soldiers in a private home during peacetime without the owner’s consent.

The Mitchell family says that’s essentially what happened when Henderson police allegedly arrested them for refusing to let officers use their homes for a “tactical advantage” in a domestic violence investigation into a neighbor, according to an official complaint.

Police officers contacted Anthony Mitchell on July 10, 2011, with a request to use his house as a lookout while investigating his neighbor. When Mitchell told police that he did not wish to be involved, the complaint alleges, police decided they would use the residence anyway.

According to Courthouse News Service, the police department decided that if Mitchell refused to leave or open the door, officers would force their way in and arrest him.

Mitchell claims this is exactly what happened. First officers “smashed open” Mitchell’s door with a “metal ram” after he did not immediately open it himself. He then “curled on the floor of his living room, with his hands over his face,” as the police shot Mitchell and his dog — which the family claims did not attack the officers — several times with “pepperball” rounds.

Pepperball is a projectile containing chemical irritant pepper spray, which is released upon impact.

Afterward, Mitchell was arrested for “obstructing a police officer.”

The ordeal didn’t end there. Mitchell’s parents, Michael and Linda, were also neighbors to the home where police officers suspected domestic violence, so the police wanted to use their home as well. Michael Mitchell was invited to a local police command center to assist “in negotiating the surrender of the neighboring suspect.”

But upon arriving at the commander center, the elder Mitchell was informed the negotiations wouldn’t be taking place, the complaint says. When he decided to leave, he was also arrested.

The elder Mitchell’s wife was not arrested, but she was roughly escorted from her home while other officers entered the house without permission, the complaint alleges. The family claims that when she was allowed to return, “the cabinets and closet doors throughout the house had been left open and their contents moved about… Even the refrigerator door had been left ajar, and mustard and mayonnaise had been left on their kitchen floor.”

The charges against both the father and the son were dismissed.

Third Amendment lawsuits are rare. Engblom v. Carey is the only major court decision concerning the amendment. It resulted from a lawsuit filed by striking New York corrections officers who were evicted from employee housing to make room for National Guardsmen who were performing their functions during the strike.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against the corrections officers in 1982.

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