Delaware State Police are facing an ACLU lawsuit after allegedly traumatizing a quadriplegic black woman and beating her husband during an early-morning drug raid in Claymont last year.
The lawsuit alleges that a SWAT-style special operations team used excessive force while executing a search warrant that had nothing to do with the couple.
Lisa and Ruther Hayes were staying with Lisa's mother in Claymont when police arrived on suspicion that the homeowner's grandsons were, according to the suit, "small-time drug dealers."
Delaware ACLU executive director Kathleen McRae says those two men were quickly taken into custody, as the raid continued:
"The police were repeatedly informed that Mrs. Hayes was severely disabled," she says. "However, they burst into the bedroom, they hold her and her husband at gunpoint with assault rifles, and repeatedly order her to stand up, stand up, even though she can't stand up."
The suit alleges that Lisa Hayes was half-dressed and being given a sponge bath when police entered, and that officers beat and Tased her husband when he tried to cover her.
Ruther Hayes, who is schizophrenic, was charged with resisting arrest. The suit says he was deprived of his medication and made to walk 20 miles back to Claymont from where he'd been detained in Newark after being taken into custody.
The raid resulted in only minor drug charges for one of the two grandsons. And the ACLU's suit says a counterterrorism-style team wasn't needed to search the home of an elderly woman where no violent crime was suspected.
"The typical reason for this type of approach to a search warrant is that they believe there may be weapons in the house," McRae says. "And we think there must be much more evaluation and investigation of -- are there weapons, what kinds of weapons, are those weapons likely to be used -- before the police just break into a private residence in North Wilmington to execute a search warrant."
The ACLU's suit is seeking policy changes to that evaluation process here in Delaware. But McRae says the issue isn't unique to the First State.
"This problem is nationwide," she says. "It's the direct result of the militarization of our police, and the whole idea that police are warriors in the war on drugs and the people out there in the community are the enemy."
McRae says their suit also seeks damages for the Hayes family, via a jury trial against the officers who executed the warrant and who were involved in the decision to send a special ops team to do so. Some of those officers haven't yet been identified.