St. Louis: On Tuesday, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found that two St. Louis County police officers violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Jon Luer and Andrea Steinebach by illegally entering their home in the middle of the night without warrant and confronting them at gunpoint.
On an early morning in July 2016, the officers were searching for an allegedly intoxicated man who a cab driver said did not pay his fare, and instead fled, at the conclusion of a 3 a.m. taxi ride. He had traveled by cab to the street where Luer and Steinebach lived.
Although the taxi driver claimed the man had disappeared between two houses near the Luer-Steinebach home, no one saw the man go inside any home in the area. Nevertheless, the police officers called to the scene decided to enter the Luer-Steinebach home with their guns drawn and without a warrant.
Mr. Luer and Ms. Steinebach awoke to the noise of police officers in their living room. Mr. Luer was confronted by the armed officers outside their bedroom while their teenage son slept down the hall. The officers ordered Mr. Luer to wake the young man. They interrogated him and took him outside for the taxi driver to identify him before concluding the son was not the person they were looking for. The officers never filed any incident report with the police department.
The federal court found that the officers’ warrantless entry into and search of the Luer-Steinebach home presented a clear violation of the residents’ Fourth Amendment rights. The court concluded that “the community caretaker exception cannot justify this severe, warrantless intrusion into a home” and commented that, under the circumstances, reasonable police officers would have left the home without entering.
ACLU Legal Director, Anthony Rothert, stated: “Armed officers entering your home in the middle of the night in the absence of any emergency was a nightmare for this family and something that is not supposed to happen in this country. During this case, it was terrifying to learn that St. Louis County police officers routinely enter residence in such circumstances. We are relieved the home invasion by the officers did not result in injury or death in this case and hope that the County police will now agree to train their officers to know that such conduct is unacceptable.”