A federal lawsuit was filed in Atlanta, where body cam footage shows Clayton County Police Officer Gregory Tillman breaking down a woman’s door and slamming her to the ground after she refused to give a chess set back to a man who had moved out. All of this happened in front of the woman’s son.
According to news reports, this involved her friend’s ex-boyfriend, who showed up claiming that he had left some items there, including a remote control and a chess set. He called 911 after she refused to let him inside her home. She believed that the man had previously been arrested on domestic violence related charges involving her friend.
The newly-released boy cam footage shows the officer banging down the door, shouting, and then using force against the homeowner. Her son was home at the time of the attack and is heard on the body cam video pleading with the officer: ‘Hey, sir. My mom got health problems, sir.’ The video shows the officer kicking the homeowner’s legs fro under her, forcing her to fall to the floor, while the officer attempted to handcuff her.
Ultimately the officer was disciplined. The county’s oversight board first voted to terminate Officer Tillman. But then, they changed their mind and voted to give him a three-day suspension, with additional training.
The original incident happened in 2019. However, it just hit the news in the past day or so. So I looked up the pending case on pacer and pulled a couple of the case documents. It looks like qualified immunity was denied to Officer Tillman by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, and now the officer is appealing, begging the Circuit Court for his qualified immunity.
I pulled the Amended Complaint which revealed a few more details. Apparently the guy told 911 that he had been “staying” at the residence. Upon the officer’s arrival, the homeowner told Tillman that the man was no longer welcome in her home, and that his belongings had been removed the day before. An argument between Officer Tillman and the homeowner ensued. She asked for his name and badge number. He refused to tell her. At her request, the homeowner’s son called for a supervisor.
Officer Tillman then is alleged to have informed the guy trying to get inside the home that, he could come and go as he pleased, until properly evicted from the house. The homeowner then announced that she was closing her door until the supervisor arrived. Instead however, without saying a word, Officer Tillman pushed with his shoulder to prevent the door from being closed. She did manage to get it closed.
Suddenly, Officer Tillman used his shoulder to break down the home’s front door out of its frame, forcibly entering the home. He grabbed the homeowner, wrenched both of her arms behind her body, and swept her legs to the ground. He then placed a knee on her back and roughly handcuffed her.
After the supervisor arrived, the handcuffs were removed and the homeowner was treated by EMS. Then she was cited on charges of misdemeanor obstruction and criminal trespass, which were later dismissed.
After the supervisor arrived, he informed the guy trying to get in that he couldn’t get inside without a court order. When the supervisor asked Officer Tillman why he knocked down the door, Tillman responded, “because we had the charge of criminal trespass” and because “he feared for his safety” because he “didn’t know what was behind the door.”
An internal investigation by the agency found that Officer Tillman lacked probable cause to arrest or charge the homeowner, and that she was within her right to refuse entry to both the officer and the guy looking for his remote control and chess set.
As we’ve discussed many times before, law enforcement entries into our castles are presumptively unconstitutional. The only two exceptions are valid consent and exigent circumstances. He clearly didn’t have consent. Nor was there any exigent circumstances, as the Court pointed out in the order denying the officer qualified immunity, which I’ll post up at the blog post on this. So there’s a clear-cut Fourth Amendment violation for the entry. Then you can add another one for the arrest inside the home – both because it lacked probable cause and because it occurred in the absence of an arrest warrant. Even with probable cause, an officer still must have an arrest warrant to arrest someone inside their home.
Was there also an excessive force violation? As the Court pointed out in its order, Officer Tillman’s claim that the homeowner posed a threat to him is “unpersuasive.” Frankly, this is a pretty easy one, too. He busted down her door and attacked her. She just wanted to be left alone. He had no probable cause to believe that she had committed any crime. While there’s always a possibility that any homeowner could be armed behind their front door, that’s ever the more reason to not burglarize their homes.
Order denying qualified immunity: