LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge has tossed a lawsuit filed by two wastewater plant executives who claimed the California county of Ventura illegally raided their homes with SWAT teams as part of a criminal probe into a 2014 plant explosion.
Plaintiffs Dean Poe and David Wirsing were part of a 2015 criminal indictment filed against the executives at Poe’s company Green Compass, in connection with a 2014 explosion and chemical spill at Santa Clara Waste Water Company in Santa Paula that injured three firefighters and other employees.
Earlier this year, Poe and Wirsing pleaded guilty to some of the charges in the indictment, the Ventura County Star reported.
But in August 2016, the executives sued the county for $27 million claiming its officials had used heavy-handed tactics against them because of comments Wirsing made about first responders.
The executives and their family members sought damages for assault, unreasonable search, excessive force, retaliation, political discrimination, false imprisonment and other counts.
Wirsing said he told district attorney investigator Jeff Barry that firefighters were injured when they walked into the chemical spill because they failed to take precautions.
In response, the District Attorney’s Office deployed a SWAT team of 23 officers to raid Wirsing’s home at 6 a.m. on Dec. 17, 2014. Officers wore tactical gear and brandished guns and riot shields, the executives claimed.
Wirsing’s wife and 6-year-old daughter were the only people home, according to the executives, and officers made them stand outside in their pajamas for five hours while the SWAT team ransacked the home.
A SWAT team also raided Poe’s home and forced him, his wife Dana and their children out of their residence in their underwear, they claimed. He said his wife was recovering from cancer at the time.
When Poe and Wirsing voluntarily surrendered to authorities in August 2015, officers violated their constitutional rights by strip-searching them in a communal area, the executives said.
In a ruling issued on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner granted Ventura and the officials’ motion for summary judgment, finding the responding officers had acted reasonably and did not violate the families’ constitutional rights.
Klausner found Poe and Wirsing did not dispute that officials had probable cause to search their homes. They had based their claim on the SWAT team’s demonstration of force, which included the number of officers on the team, the way they were armed and their conduct. A gun had been pointed at Poe’s wife face and she had been forced out of bed, they said.
But Klausner wrote that audio and video evidence undermined Poe and Wirsing’s assertions.
“In particular, the audio and video recordings show SRT [Special Response Team] members did not point their guns at any residents and did not detain them,” Klausner wrote.
The judge found that video evidence demonstrated that the officers’ conduct was reasonable.
He also ruled the strip searches of Poe and Wirsing did not violate their constitutional rights and that they had failed to establish an unconstitutional policy or procedure.