COLUMBIA — A Columbia Police SWAT raid that happened in February has prompted a lawsuit against the city of Columbia, according to an attorney of the family targeted by the raid.
The lawsuit was filed before noon on Monday in the U.S. Western District Court by attorneys Milt Harper and Jeff Hilbrenner, representing the family. Three plaintiffs, Jonathan Whitworth, Brittany Whitworth and their 7-year-old son, all of whom were present at the house during the raid, have been listed.
Attorney Milt Harper said the lawsuit charges that the Columbia Police Department violated the Whitworths' constitutional rights, damaged their house with bullet holes, killed one dog and injured another. He said the dog that was injured had to receive emergency treatment costing $2,000.
The lawsuit lists the city of Columbia, 12 police officers who were present at the scene and "other, unknown police officer(s)" as defendants.
The constitutional issues involved are the reason for filing in federal court, Harper said. He said the Whitworths appreciate some of the changes that have occurred in Columbia Police Department procedures since the SWAT raid and hope the lawsuit will lead to more.
Harper said the family has waited this long for the lawsuit because it wanted to give the matter plenty of thought and because the 7-year-old has been in counseling since the incident.
Police have said they conducted the February raid based on evidence that Jonathan Whitworth was dealing large amounts of marijuana. Their search on that day, however, found a marijuana pipe but no drugs. A video of the raid found its way to YouTube and received about 1.5 million views.
Police Chief Ken Burton has since backed up the actions of his officers on that night but tightened up department policies on SWAT raids. The city's Citizen Police Review Board, after a complaint from California activists for marijuana reform, also found no misconduct on the part of the officers.
The California activists have since appealed the board's decision to City Manager Bill Watkins, and a coalition of Columbia residents has filed a separate complaint with the review board.
You can view a read the full lawsuit at thewatchword.wordpress.com.
Neither Burton nor Deputy Police Chief Tom Dresner could be reached for comment.