WASHINGTON, D.C. — Warning of the danger to the public from the increasing use of “knock and talk” tactics by police, The Rutherford Institute has asked the United States Supreme Court to rein in aggressive “knock and talk” practices, which have become thinly veiled, warrantless attempts by which citizens are coerced and intimidated into “talking” with heavily armed police who “knock” on their doors in the middle of the night.
In asking the Court to review the case of Young v. Borders, Rutherford Institute attorneys denounced a lower court ruling that failed to hold police accountable for banging on the wrong door at 1:30 am, failing to identify themselves as police, and then repeatedly shooting and killing the innocent homeowner who answered the door while holding a gun in self-defense. Although 26-year-old Andrew Scott had committed no crime and never fired a single bullet or lifted his firearm against police, he was gunned down by police who were investigating a speeding incident by engaging in a middle-of-the-night “knock and talk” in Scott’s apartment complex.
In an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court, Institute attorneys argue that the police violated the Fourth Amendment in conducting the “knock and talk” because the late-night raid at Scott’s home was an abuse of society’s norms and a trespass on Scott’s property. The Institute has also issued constitutional guidelines to educate the public about what they can do to preserve their constitutional rights against the coercive use of “knock and talks” by police as a means of sidestepping the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless, unreasonable searches.
“Government officials insist that there is nothing unlawful, unreasonable or threatening about the prospect of armed police dressed in SWAT gear knocking on doors in the middle of night and ‘asking’ homeowners to engage in warrantless ‘knock-and-talk’ sessions,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “However, as Andrew Scott learned, there’s always a price to pay for saying no to such heavy-handed requests by police. If the courts continue to sanction such aggressive, excessive, coercive tactics, it will give police further incentive to terrorize and kill American citizens without fear of repercussion.”
On July 15, 2012, Deputy Richard Sylvester pursued a speeding motorcyclist, which he later had cause to believe might be armed and had been spotted at a nearby apartment complex. Around 1:30 a.m., Sylvester and three other deputies began knocking on doors in the apartment complex in the vicinity of the parked motorcycle, starting with Apt. 114, which was occupied by Andrew Scott and Amy Young, who were playing video games and had no connection to the motorcycle or any illegal activity. The deputies assumed tactical positions, guns drawn and ready to shoot. Sylvester, without announcing he was a police officer, then banged loudly and repeatedly on the door. Unnerved by the banging at such a late hour, Andrew Scott retrieved his handgun before opening the door. When Scott saw a shadowy figure holding a gun outside his door, he retreated into his apartment only to have Sylvester immediately open fire. Sylvester fired six shots, three of which hit and killed Scott. A trial court subsequently ruled in favor of the police, ruling that Scott was to blame for choosing to retrieve a handgun before opening the door. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that Sylvester was protected by “qualified immunity,” reasoning that the use of excessive force did not violate “clearly established law.”