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Suit on Little Rock police's no-knock raids dismissed at plaintiffs' request

by Linda Satter | November 12, 2020 at 7:23 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK -- The fourth and final pending federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of no-knock raids carried out by Little Rock police in years past was dismissed Tuesday at the plaintiffs' request.

The lawsuit, which was scheduled to go before a federal jury on Dec. 3, was dismissed without prejudice, meaning that it can be refiled later, though U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. warned that any refiling must comply with rules of civil procedure and that the plaintiffs may be ordered to pay any costs that the court "deems appropriate."

The suit, one of four filed on Aug. 8, 2019, by attorneys Mike Laux and Benjamin Crump, concerned the execution of a search warrant on Feb. 16, 2018, at the Labette Drive home of Faye Hernandez, 88, and her caretaker, Candice Caldwell.

Hernandez, who died this summer, had been living in the house for 45 years when officers looking for methamphetamine, which they said they learned had been sold there by Caldwell's grandson, burst through the door.

Caldwell was alone in her bedroom with her dog when she heard explosions and people running in other parts of the house, according to the suit. As officers knocked open the bedroom door and stormed in with guns raised, she grabbed her dog and begged officers not to shoot the animal, the suit alleged. It said officers scorched the carpeting with flash-bang grenades and destroyed a thermostat because they thought it was a video camera.

No drugs or other illegal items were found in the house. After Hernandez's death, she was replaced as a plaintiff by her estate's administrator, Deborah Brown.

In seeking dismissal, the plaintiffs' attorneys cited pandemic-related delays that have thwarted their ability to prepare for trial.

In seeking temporary dismissal of all the no-knock suits, they have cited difficulty with promptly obtaining and reviewing documents sought from the city because of the city staff being shorthanded due to pandemic-related work-from-home directives. Meanwhile, the city has complained about having to call in people from home to review for redactions thousands of pages in documents that the plaintiffs requested. The city also complained about problems in trying to schedule the depositions of the plaintiffs.

After the city sought sanctions against Laux for failing to timely file an unopposed motion to dismiss the Hernandez case, Laux said last week in documents explaining the delay that he and his family had to be evacuated from their Southern California home in late October because of raging wildfires.

Moody denied the motion for sanctions as moot.

On Aug. 27, Moody dismissed without prejudice the first two of the no-knock lawsuits that had been filed in 2019. Laux and Crump sought dismissal of the case after Moody refused to postpone the trials beyond November and December.

Moody dismissed the third no-knock suit on Oct. 6, also at the plaintiffs' request and without prejudice to refile it at a later date.

It involved a no-knock raid carried out about 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2016, at a home at 3220 King Road. The warrant was for one address, but the raid was carried out at an adjacent address as well, where police shot a man who heard the commotion, jumped out of bed and grabbed a shotgun.

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