The Herald Bulletin

August 6, 2009

Anderson woman left homeless after SWAT raid

Attorney: City immune to police action damages

By Aleasha Sandley, Herald Bulletin Staff Writer

ANDERSON — An Anderson woman was left without a livable home Wednesday after the Anderson Police Department SWAT team used tear gas and other methods to try to coax out a fugitive who wasn’t there.

Mary Williams said her rental home at 120 W. Third St. was destroyed after the SWAT raid, all the windows busted out and the lingering effects of at least 15 canisters of tear gas making it impossible to stay in the house for more than a few minutes.

“I’m homeless,” she said. “I don’t have nowhere to stay. I don’t have any clothes. My house is so destroyed, you would have thought I was a notorious drug dealer.”

In fact, police were looking for an alleged drug dealer when they raided Williams’ home. Her boyfriend’s son, Tracy Miller, also known as Tracy McCloud, has an APD warrant out for his arrest for the armed robbery of Studio 2 Salon on Dec. 23 and another warrant issued by U.S. marshals for selling cocaine.

APD Sgt. Bill Casey said dispatchers received an anonymous tip Wednesday that Miller was hiding in Williams’ home.

“We believe this guy was possibly armed,” Casey said. “It’s the same guy that went into a place and robbed four women at gunpoint. We take those kind of things seriously.”

Williams said when police knocked on her door about 6:45 p.m., she told them Miller was not in the residence. When officers asked if they could bring a canine into the home for a search, Williams gave them permission.

“I went outside across the street waiting for them to bring the canine,” she said. “We stood out there for two hours. They waited until it was pitch dark, then started shooting off tear gas. They didn’t bring out a canine unit.

“If they would have brought a canine unit in, everything would have been resolved.”

But Casey said Williams would not give police permission to bring in a canine to search the house, an action that would have made the SWAT operation unnecessary. Casey said Williams had a pit bull, and she was unwilling to allow the canine unit in the house.

“She didn’t want us to come in with a dog, but we can come in and search the house,” Casey said. “We wanted to use the dog for officer safety. The supervisor on duty decided to contact his boss. They talked about it and decided to get a search warrant and get the SWAT team involved. That’s when all the fiasco happened.”

Madison Superior Court 3 Judge Thomas Newman said he signed the search warrant about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“They had pretty reliable information that (Miller) was in there,” he said.

But Miller was not found in the home, and Williams is asking the city for restitution for her destroyed property. She plans to hire an attorney to pursue the case.

“I am going to sue them,” she said. “I have to get something out of this. I’m not going to let this go because my life savings is destroyed.

“I want everybody in Madison County to see how crooked these officers are.”

City attorney Tim Lanane said under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, municipalities have immunity for acts taken under the name of the law.

“We’ve legislated when government should have immunity, and one of the times is when the entity is in the course of enforcing the law, which I think probably does extend to a SWAT team operation,” said Lanane, who also is an Indiana state senator.

In determining immunity, an arbitrator would have to decide whether the SWAT team acted in good faith and upon reliable information, Lanane said.

“Those are always the difficult cases because certainly we have to take a look at all the facts involved,” he said.

Lanane could not remember any past cases in which the city was held responsible for damage done by police.

Casey said the ordeal took several hours because police had to obtain a search warrant for the house, and the SWAT team had to gather, debrief and set up a perimeter. Once in place, the team, led by SWAT Commander Sgt. John Brandson, had to follow strict protocol.

First, the teams tries talking the suspect out before using tear gas to try and coax him out. They might eventually use flash-bangs to confuse the subject.

“We don’t want to use lethal force or excessive force unless we have to,” Casey said, noting that police did not know at the time whether Miller might have been in the house with a weapon or a hostage. “(The SWAT team is) not in no rush to go kicking doors and grab people and shoot them up.”

Police continue their search for Miller, who has been wanted since the December salon robbery.

Williams, who had lived in her house for seven and a half years, said she wouldn’t be able to live there again, even if it were fixed. She spent Wednesday night in the abandoned house across the street and plans to sleep in her car until she finds a place to stay. She does not want to leave her dog and stay in a shelter.

Williams hopes Anderson police will use the incident to rethink their SWAT team tactics.

“They didn’t say sorry,” she said. “They didn’t say nothing. They treated me like I was a criminal; they treated me like I was trash.”

Contact Aleasha Sandley: 640-4805,