5 September – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and cooperating attorneys from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP obtained a $230,000 settlement for their client, the Unis family of Pueblo, Colorado. The settlement agreement, announced today, brings to a close a civil rights battle spanning almost four years against the United States, the City of Pueblo, individual officers from the DEA, the State of Colorado and the Pueblo Police Department. The federal government and the City of Pueblo will each pay $100,000, and the State, $30,000.
The settlement arose from lawsuits filed after several fully geared SWAT officers of the Pueblo Police Department, wielding assault weapons and masked in black, under the auspices of a federal drug task force, stormed the home of Dan and Rosa Unis and their two teenaged sons in late summer 2000. In what was later euphemistically called a “dynamic entry,” the officers subdued the family at gunpoint, while yelling obscenities and kicking the family’s small dog across the room. They then searched the home and arrested the teenage sons, detaining them in prison for two days without any parental contact. The officers operated without a warrant of any kind; no charges of any kind were ever filed by the government.
“We are pleased to see the Fourth Amendment prevail, particularly during these challenging times for civil liberties,” said Gibson Dunn litigation attorney Greg Whitehair, who with a team represents the Unis family on a pro bono basis. “We hope this result will prevent other families and individuals from suffering future law enforcement raids of this nature.”
Earlier this year, in the Unis’ lawsuit against the individual officers, Senior District Judge Richard P. Matsch, of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, ruled that the officers’ entry into the home and detention of the brothers violated the family’s Fourth Amendment rights. He found that a competent officer would have known he or she was acting in violation of the Fourth Amendment. This ruling established important precedent regarding the limited scope of law enforcement actions that may be taken without an arrest warrant.
As a result of this ruling, and in light of separate tort claims brought against them and their agents, the governmental entities (United States, State of Colorado, City of Pueblo) chose to settle the litigation and pending appeals for $230,000.
“The ACLU considers this result an outstanding defense of civil liberties, and the Unis family is now able to move forward in support of the boys’ college careers,” said Cathryn L. Hazouri, Executive Director of the ACLU of Colorado. The Unis brothers are now honors students in veterinary medicine and ethno botany.
“We are very pleased with the outcome, especially the recognition that the police were wrong when they broke into our home and terrified my family,” said Dan Unis, father of the two boys. “We look forward to returning to our private lives.”