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Mon, Feb. 24

Jury sides with PANT in drug raid civil trial

PRESCOTT ­ Rendering a civil trail verdict in their favor, a federal jury agreed on Thursday that Prescott Area Narcotics Task Force (PANT) officers acted reasonably when they executed a search warrant on Robert Howell's home in March 2003.

A juror from Kingman said that she sided with the police officers because "I believe it was reasonable what they did."

A juror from Flagstaff said that everyone believed that the police gave the plaintiff enough time to answer the door before they entered his house with the use of force.

"There was enough time not to have violated his Fourth Amendment right," he said.

Howell, a 53-year-old Prescott man, sued the PANT officers for compensatory damages based on a claim that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment right of unreasonable searches and seizures because they unlawfully executed a search warrant on his Dameron Drive home.

Larry Crown, who represented four PANT officers of six from agencies around the county, said that the defendants are pleased with the jury's decision.

"This is a great victory for involved police officers who did their job extremely well, exercised a high level of skills, competence and professionalism and, above all, acted with dignity and well within the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution," Crown said.

Crown's partner, Elan Mizrahi, and James Jellison, who represented a PANT officer from the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, agreed with Crown's statement and declined to comment any further on the case as they are representing their clients in the civil suit that Howell's attorney, Tony Shaw, filed in the Yavapai County Superior Court.

Prescott's Chief Assistant City Attorney, Tom Lloyd, who represented Prescott Police Sgt. Pete Hodap ­ who was in charge of the PANT team ­ and Prescott Police Department Officer Amy Bonney, said that the jury reached the right decision.

"I think it was their feeling that the police officers have a very, very hard job to do, for which they do not have a lot of clear guidance and it makes their job much more difficult," Lloyd said. "The officers are very pleased that their actions are found to be appropriate. The jurors thought that the whole event was the result of Howell's son's drug activities."

Lloyd said that the plaintiff might have some difficulties proceeding with the state case because of the jury's decision in the federal case.

"There may be what we call some preclusive effect of this decision Š that could be unfavorable to the plaintiffs," Lloyd said.

Lloyd agreed that unlike in the federal case, a number of claims that the plaintiff filed remain in the state case including a judicial deception claim, which federal judge Frederick Martone dismissed during the federal trial.

In that claim, the plaintiff alleges that a PANT officer obtained the search warrant unlawfully.

Shaw said that he is disappointed with the outcome of the case and that he may file a motion for a judgment not withstanding the verdict based on the judge's previous rulings. He said, however, that the state case might be more promising because a number of claims still stand, such as excessive force and false arrest.

"After a long talk with a juror, I'm optimistic proceeding with this case in the state court," Shaw said.

Contact the reporter at mburic@prescottaz.com

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