It all started at Rowland Publishing in December, 2011.
Court records say 38 year old Christopher Campbell stole two computers from the company and escaped a Tallahassee Police Officer who tried but failed to stop Campbell with his taser after the officer responded to an alarm.
TPD's search for Campbell, who ran away carrying the computers, took them to a parking lot for four townhouses including Bruce Pelham's home where dogs picked up Campbell's scent.
Pelham was upstairs with the tv on typing a book about having multiple sclerosis when he heard someone in his home.
"And my door burst open and a policeman in a crouched position was holding a large pistol directly at my chest," said Pelham. "And right behind there were two other policemen with drawn weapons," he said.
TPD's report says Pelham didn't respond to verbal commands when officers announced their presence, but when he saw police outside his bedroom he obeyed all commands.
The report also says Pelham was handcuffed at gun point, the residence was checked, then he was released.
Pelham's attorney Stephen Masterson says police can legally follow a suspect into a home.
But he says police entered Pelham's home without a warrant an hour after the burglary and Pelham, who was 66 at the time, clearly didn't remotely match the description of the suspect.
"This is not a fella who just ran more than a block carrying computer equipment at a run and to handcuff, abuse him, scream at him," said Masterson.
"Having your door opened, having a pistol aimed at you is a rather traumatic experience," said Pelham.
Pelham says when he complained to a TPD assistant chief about the incident, he was told the officers did what they were trained to do.
Police eventually caught Campbell, who's currently in state prison.
Tallahassee City Attorney Lew Shelley says the city hasn't been served with the federal civil rights lawsuit yet, so he had no comment.
News Release: Law Office of James Cook
Tallahassee, FL – A retired attorney is suing Tallahassee Police in federal court for invading his home, screaming orders at him and hand cuffing him, on December 3, 2011. Larry Pelham presented a formal claim to the City last June but the City has not replied. The lawsuit will be filed later today in the Federal District Court in Tallahassee.
On Saturday, December 3, 2011, about 10 p.m., Pelham was working upstairs at his computer at his townhouse at 564 Teal Lane, when he heard footsteps on the stairs. As he turned, the door opened and Pelham was confronted by three police officers pointing firearms. One officer was in a shooter’s crouch. Another officer screamed for Pelham to “Stand up. Turn around, hands over your head.” When Pelham tried to ask what was going on, the officer told him to “shut up.” An officer cuffed the 66-year-old man’s hands behind his back.
Pelham remained handcuffed while one of the officers questioned him. While he was being questioned, the other officers searched the house. Eventually, the handcuffs were removed. During the interrogation, Pelham told the officer he was working on a book when they entered his home. As they were leaving, the officer told Pelham, “Now you have something else to write about.” No one apologized to Pelham.
Two days later, Pelham went to the Tallahassee Police headquarters to speak with the Chief of Police about the incident. An assistant met with Pelham and merely offered a justification for what had happened. Once again, Pelham received no apology.
The police had entered Pelham’s home while investigating the burglary of a business on Miccosukee Road, where computers were stolen. Police were dispatched to an alarm. Upon arrival, officers saw a young white male running from the scene. A suspect was sighted entering a residential neighborhood near where Pelham lived. The officer lost sight of the suspect.
Nearly an hour after the police arrived at the burglary scene, an officer with a police dog, searched the neighborhood. The dog seemed to alert near Pelham’s townhouse. The door to Pelham’s townhouse was not locked, so Police opened the door and entered without announcing themselves. The townhouses are narrow and built together. Pelham maintains there was no evidence connecting the suspected burglar with his townhouse.
The suspect who had been seen at the scene of the burglary earlier that evening had dropped his mobile phone. From the phone, Police were able to get the suspects name and quickly pulled up his date of birth, address and criminal record. That information matched the initial description of the suspect as a white male between the age of 25 and 35, 5’6” to 5’8”, 170 to 180 lbs. Pelham bears no resemblance to the person the police had seen.
Pelham, who was trained as a lawyer, believed in the Constitutional guarantees that we all should be secure in our homes and not subject to unreasonable searches and seizures. “They came into my home, treating me like a criminal, and kept me handcuffed while they were questioning me and searching my home. I felt violated,” Pelham said. Since the encounter, he has had dreams about the incident, awakening with feelings of anxiety.
One of Pelham’s attorneys, James Cook, observed that “the Constitutional provision that we are to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures is one of the most sacred tenets of American law. When police run rough-shod over that protection, consequences go far beyond the immediate victim. How can we feel safe if an agency charged with protecting us, invades our home and privacy needlessly?”
Lawsuit co-counsel, attorney Stephen Masterson added, “The U.S. Supreme Court has continued to make clear that the Castle Doctrine – the special protections the law affords a person’s home – is still in effect in the United States. While government intrusions seem to be becoming the norm, Mr. Pelham isn’t willing to suffer this invasion silently.”