Civil Rights Leader Considering Suit Over Police Raid

November 30, 2011 8:18 am

If you’ve been to an event in D.C. about civil rights issues, Barbara Arnwine is probably a familiar face. As executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, she’s most recently been calling attention to the impact that voter ID laws could have on keeping minorities from the polls.

But this week Arnwine has been in the news for a different reason: her home was raided by Prince George’s County Police on Nov. 21 because police suspect her nephew in an armed robbery. Arnwine says that police didn’t tell her why her home was being searched and held her family at gunpoint for several hours. She’s considering a lawsuit.“They never said why they were coming in, they never showed a search warrant to my client, they never told her why they were coming in, they just barged in with guns, threatening to kill, restricting their movement, they couldn’t even go to the bathroom in their own house,” Arnwine’s attorney Willie Gary told TPM. “They were imprisoned in their own home.”

Arwine recounted the incident on Rev. Al Sharpton’s show:

Defining the incident as “outrageous,” Arnwine said she and four family members, including an 80 year-old relative, were in her home when a SWAT team arrived at 5:30 a.m., three days before Thanksgiving. Arwine told Sharpton that the police produced no warrant despite her requests and searched her home which she says was left in disarray. She said they asked for the name of who owned the house and how to spell that name. […]

Arwine informed Sharpton that one of the members of the Prince George’s County Police Department was “taken aback” when she informed them she was an attorney and [sic] of basic fourth 4th Amendment rights. Arnwine claims the officer responded that “the fourth Amendment doesn’t apply here.” She also said they didn’t believe she was an attorney and asked what school she attended and what year she graduated.

According to an application for a search and seizure warrant that TPM obtained from Arnwine’s legal team, police were investigating an armed robbery of a Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen in Mitchellville, Maryland on Nov. 4. Two black males wearing “Jason” and “Skeleton” Halloween masks and carrying handguns allegedly entered the restaurant and stole about $3,400, including about $683 in coins.

A tipster said that a suspect made three or four transactions at a Sunoco gas station in the same shopping ceter as the Popeye’s using mostly coins. The suspect, later identified by a manager at Popeye’s as former employee Curtis Ford, used a dark draw string bag during the robbery and when he made the purchases at Sunoco, according to the affidavit.

One Sunoco employee said that the transaction involving the black knit draw string bag was unusual because Ford “usually enters the convenience store with barely enough currency to make a normal purchase.” He allegedly told employees to “keep the change” during the transactions.

Gary said that about six people live in Arnwine’s home, which is within walking distance of the Popeye’s and the Sunoco. Police say they seized three masks, a handgun, three draw string bags, miscellaneous change and $149 in cash from the residence.

A spokeswoman with the Prince George’s County Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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