Everyone who visits a home for the first time—including delivery drivers, plumbers, and Girl Scouts—knows that you have to make sure you have the right address before barging in. Somehow, Waxahachie Police Department (WPD) Lieutenant Mike Lewis didn’t get the memo. In the dead of night, Lewis directed a heavily armed SWAT team to storm a home in which the innocent Karen Jimerson was getting ready for bed while her loved ones slept.  

Lewis had every reason to know he directed his SWAT team to the wrong house. First off, he had a copy of the search warrant and photos of the suspected house, and Karen’s address was clearly affixed to the front of her home. Although he later reported that he “believed” the numbers on Karen’s home (593) matched the address on the warrant (573), Lewis admitted that he never got a good look at her address before ordering the raid. Even worse, Karen’s home and the target house looked very different—Karen’s house had an impossible-to-miss wheelchair ramp (which the target house lacked), while the target house had a perimeter fence, a porch, a detached garage, and stairs leading to the front door (which Karen’s house lacked). 

Without double-checking Karen’s address or noticing the obvious physical differences between her house and the target house, Lewis ordered officers to “break and rake” her home. On Lewis’ command, officers busted down Karen’s door, detonated a flashbang grenade in her front yard, shattered her windows, and held her terrified family at gunpoint until another officer realized Lewis’ mistake. In the wake of the raid, an internal investigation found that Lewis “completely overlooked” the WPD’s “reasonable and normal protocol,” and Lewis was suspended without pay.  

Still, when Karen and her family sued Lewis for violating their Fourth Amendment rights, a divided three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit ruled that qualified immunity shields him from accountability. According to the panel, Lewis didn’t have “fair notice” that ordering a warrantless no-knock raid on the wrong house violates the constitutional rights of the people inside.  

The panel’s decision defies common sense and binding precedent. So Karen and her family have teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to ask the full Fifth Circuit to rehear their case. When an officer has detailed information describing the place to be searched—including photos and an address—but fails to confirm that information before raiding the wrong house, he should not be able to evade liability by invoking qualified immunity.

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Dan King

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On Lewis’ Orders, the Waxahachie SWAT Team Raids a Home Full of Innocent People 

A few hours before the botched SWAT raid took place, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officer contacted Lewis to request WPD’s help in executing a search warrant at an alleged methamphetamine stash house. The DEA officer gave Lewis a copy of the warrant, explained what the target house looked like, and sent him photographs of the target house. Lewis then got permission to deploy his SWAT team and conducted independent research into the target house and its inhabitants before following another officer to the target area.  

The warrant authorized officers to search 573 8th Street. When officers began congregating on the front porch of what they thought was the target house, however, Lewis realized something was off. The local law enforcement officer at the front of the caravan had taken them to 583 8th Street. At that point, the target house was immediately to the officers’ right. On their left was Karen’s house, 593 8th Street.  

Without even checking the clearly visible address on the front of Karen’s home to make sure it matched the warrant, Lewis ordered the SWAT team to storm the house on their left.  

Lewis should have known that Karen’s house was not the correct target. Aside from the different addresses, several notable features made it clear as day that Lewis and his SWAT team were—for the second time—headed toward the wrong house. Lewis should have known, for instance, the target house had its address painted on the curb and affixed to a pole supporting its porch (while Karen’s house had its address affixed to the house itself and had no porch). Lewis should have known the target house was the thirteenth one on the block (while Karen’s house was the fifteenth). And Lewis should have known the target house had a detached garage and a perimeter fence (while Karen’s house had neither of these features but sported an impossible-to-miss wheelchair ramp leading to the front door to accommodate her disability). 

Obeying Lewis’ orders, the SWAT team moved from one wrong house to another, clambered up a wheelchair ramp that should not have been there, busted down Karen’s front door, shattered glass all over her sleeping children, and detonated a flashbang grenade. The SWAT team then held the family—including Karen, who had just emerged from a shower—at gunpoint until one officer shouted: “Wrong house!” 

After the raid, the WPD Police Chief testified that mistakes like Lewis’ should never happen. An internal investigation determined that “reasonable and normal [Department] protocol was completely overlooked.” And Lewis was suspended without pay for two days.  

The Fifth Circuit Incorrectly Rules That Lewis Is Immune from Suit 

Lewis concedes that, by ordering the warrantless no-knock SWAT raid on Karen’s house, he violated the Constitution. This, of course, was obvious—“when it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the home is first among equals.” 1 Officers can’t just barge into a family’s house without a warrant to see what they’re up to.   

All the same, a split panel of the Fifth Circuit ruled 2-1 that qualified immunity insulates Lewis from accountability. Even though Lewis admits he violated the Fourth Amendment, the panel found he didn’t have “fair notice” that his actions were unconstitutional because he did more than “nothing” to identify the correct house. 2 the steps Lewis took to identify the target house (like reviewing the warrant, speaking to DEA agents, and studying photos) should have given him more—not less—reason to know that Karen’s home was not the target. 

Judge James L. Dennis dissented from the decision. He would have denied qualified immunity because Supreme Court precedent, an unpublished decision of the Fifth Circuit, and a published decision by the Eleventh Circuit all should have alerted Lewis that the Fourth Amendment required him to confirm that he had the right house before ordering the raid. 3

The panel majority was wrong for three reasons. First, the Supreme Court has made clear that officers executing a search warrant must make “a reasonable effort to ascertain and identify the place intended to be searched[.]” 4 This means officers are not entitled to qualified immunity when they are “on notice of the risk that they might search the wrong residence” but fail to take reasonable steps to ensure that they search the right residence. 5 As soon as the officers arrived at the wrong house to begin with, Lewis was on notice that the SWAT team might search the wrong residence. Rather than take commonsense steps to figure out which house matched the warrant, however, Lewis glanced to his left, glanced to his right, and moved without verifying he had the right house.  

Second, four other federal courts of appeal have denied qualified immunity to officers in similar situations. 6 These courts hold that, under Supreme Court precedent, a wrong-house raid violates the Fourth Amendment when an officer fails to verify the address or conspicuous features of a house to be searched. Lewis had extensive information about the target house, but he used none of that information on the scene to ensure that he directed the SWAT team to raid the right house. 

Third, Lewis’ constitutional violation was obvious. All reasonable officers—indeed, all reasonable Americans—know to verify that they’re at the right place before they enter. Lewis easily could have double-checked that Karen’s address matched the address on the warrant before he ordered officers to “break and rake” her home. He also could have noticed that Karen’s house had obvious differences from the target house, including a gigantic metal wheelchair ramp that officers had to ascend to execute the warrant. But he didn’t. Qualified immunity should not protect him from violating basic, universally understood constitutional rights.  

The Fifth Circuit panel seems to think that, so long as an officer does some homework, it never matters if he flunks the test. The Constitution requires more. If an officer has every reason to know that he is searching the wrong place, qualified immunity should not shield him from responsibility for violating the rights of the people inside. 

The Plaintiffs 

The Plaintiffs are Karen Jimerson; her partner, James Parks; and their three minor children. 

The Defendant 

The Defendant is Waxahachie Police Department Lieutenant Mike Lewis. 

The Lawsuit 

The Jimersons are asking the full Fifth Circuit to declare that qualified immunity does not shield Lieutenant Lewis from liability for ordering the entirely preventable no-knock SWAT raid on their home. 

The Litigation Team 

The lawyers on this case are Senior Attorney Patrick Jaicomo, Attorney Jared McClain, and Litigation Fellow Dylan Moore. 

About the Institute for Justice  

The Institute for Justice (IJ) is the national law firm for liberty. IJ leads the fight against dangerous doctrines—like qualified immunity—that allow government officials to skirt responsibility when they violate the Constitution. Later this year, for instance, the Supreme Court will hear IJ’s case arguing that city officials in Castle Hills, Texas, who arrested a grandmother in retaliation for criticizing them should be held accountable. And in the town of Parksley, Virginia, IJ represents two Haitian immigrants who seek justice against an out-of-control town councilmember who used his position in local government as an excuse to damage their property and shut down their food truck business.