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Court rejects qualified immunity for SERT operators in execution of no-knock search warrant

Court ruled that a jury may find that participating officers used unconstitutional excessive force during the execution of the warrant


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On February 23, 2018, at about 6 a.m., members of the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) executed a no-knock search warrant on a home in Bangor Township, Pennsylvania. Richard and Ada Anglemeyer resided in the home with their two sons, Jeffrey and Mark, and their son-in-law Joseph Kluska.

The search warrant disclosed that Mark Anglemeyer was involved in multiple sales of methamphetamine in a workshop near the family residence. There was no information that other family members were involved in illegal drug activity. The SERT officers were told that some members of the Anglemeyer family may possess firearms and that Mark was a 52-year-old white male.

Upon arrival, a SERT officer saw Richard Anglemeyer look out a window. Believing that their presence was compromised, team members rushed into the target residence. Officer Clinton Painter encountered 76-year-old Ada Anglemeyer, who was dressed in sleep attire, stepping out of her bedroom. Ada alleged that without warning, Painter struck her in the face with his shield, causing her to fall onto her back. The blow broke several of her teeth and one vertebra, requiring long-term treatment.

Officer Mark Benson met 77-year-old Richard Anglemeyer near the inside front door. After shining a flashlight into Richard’s eyes, Benson allegedly hit Richard in the head with the flashlight, grabbed him by the neck and forced him to the ground. Richard hit his head on the fireplace and was briefly knocked out. He suffered numerous contusions, facial bruises and knee damage requiring surgery.

Jeffrey Anglemeyer, 55 years old, was confronted by Officer Robert McGarvey in the kitchen. He ordered Jeffrey to get down but before he could comply, clotheslined him and forced him to the floor. Jeffrey was zip-tied, pulled to his feet with the zip-tie and placed in a chair. He was then slapped in the face and repeatedly punched, after demanding medical help for his parents. [1] He incurred shoulder sprains and other lasting injuries.

Joseph Kluska, the Anglemeyer son-in-law, was sleeping in an upstairs bedroom when Officer Matthew Wysocky jumped on his bed, zip-tied him, lifted him up and slammed him to the floor. Kluska suffered two torn rotator cuffs that required surgery to repair.

After controlling the occupants of the home as described above, the officers proceeded to search the premises. No methamphetamine was found and the intended target of the investigation, Mark Anglemeyer, “was never convicted of any crime resulting from the search.” [2]

The lawsuit against the SERT officers

The victims of the search sued the involved SERT officers in federal court alleging use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The District Court ruled that all defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and dismissed the lawsuit. The plaintiffs filed an appeal and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.

The Third Circuit Decision [3]

The court began by outlining the process used to determine whether qualified immunity is appropriate for defendant police officers. The court explained that the qualified immunity process has two prongs.

The first involves an examination of the facts offered by the plaintiff to determine whether they show a constitutional violation. [4] The second involves a review of legal precedent to determine whether the constitutional violation at issue was clearly established at the time it occurred.

Next, the court set forth the constitutional standard for determining whether law enforcement application of force in a given situation was reasonable. The court stated: “The question in excessive force cases is whether, under the totality of the circumstances, ‘the officers’ actions are objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.’” [5]

Finally, the court examined the SERT officers’ application of force toward each plaintiff and whether it was reasonable:

  • Ada Anglemeyer: The court observed that Mrs. Angelmeyer was elderly (76 years old), dressed in a nightgown and walking out of her bedroom when confronted by Officer Painter. She stated that Painter, without warning, struck her with his shield in the face, breaking several teeth, causing her to fall and break a vertebra in her spine.

    The court noted that Painter had no information that she was involved with methamphetamine and no reason to believe she was armed. The court concluded, “Officer Painter could not reasonably believe that Ada posed an immediate threat to his or his fellow officers’ safety, particularly in light of Ada’s age and stature.”

  • Richard Anglemeyer: The court observed that Richard was 77 years old and the father of suspect Mark Anglemeyer, who was 52 years old at the time of this event. [6] The court noted that Officer Benson had no information that any of Mark’s family was involved in illegal activity. Nonetheless, when encountering Richard, Benson struck him with a flashlight, grabbed him by the neck and threw him on the ground, causing him to hit his head on the fireplace and lose consciousness. [7] The court ruled, “a jury could find that no force was necessary against Richard—let alone force of the degree exercised, particularly against a non-threatening and elderly individual.”
  • Jeffrey Anglemeyer: The court ruled about Jeffrey: “A reasonable jury also could conclude that the officers’ force was objectively unreasonable. Like his mother and father, Jeffrey was unarmed and not suspected of any wrongdoing. Jeffrey also had no time to comply with Officer McGarvey’s command to get down before Officer McGarvey struck him.”

    The court further stated, “Once Jeffrey was zip-tied, the officers could not have reasonably believed that Jeffrey posed any threat, and there is no indication that he was resisting the officers’ restraints. So a jury could find that an officer stepping on Jeffrey’s neck, yanking him up by his zip-ties instead of aiding him to his feet, and punching him—all while Jeffery was bound and defenseless [8] — rises to objectively unreasonably conduct.”

  • Joseph Kluska: Kluska was the 45-year-old son-in-law of the Angle Meyers. Here the court ruled, “a reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Wysocky engaged in objectively unreasonable conduct when he picked up Joseph by his zip-tied arms and dropped him to the floor, tearing both of his rotator cuffs. Though Officer Wysocky saw a handgun lying on the back of Joseph’s bed, Officer Wysocky harmed Joseph after he was fully secured [and] cooperative.”

Lessons learned from this incident

  1. Search warrant executions must be carefully planned. All available intelligence should be obtained concerning the presence and backgrounds of all persons likely to be present at the time of the search.
  2. Prior surveillance, if practicable, of the target residence and the use of informants to determine the identity of all expected residents is strongly advised.
  3. The criminal history of each resident and frequent visitor to the target location should be obtained, if possible, before the search, to include, any history of violence, firearms violations and possession of firearms.
  4. All relevant intelligence information should be delivered to the search team leaders and officers expected to participate in the execution of the warrant. The intelligence information obtained can be used to carefully plan how the search will be conducted.
  5. Excessive force visited upon occupants present at the execution of the search who are unarmed, non-resisting, and not implicated in criminal activity, is simply not defensible.
  6. Also indefensible is the use of force upon those present during the search that have already been fully secured.
  7. Officers executing a search warrant must understand that each occupant of the search location has their own constitutional protection and each has the right to be free from use of excessive force. A general suspicion that firearms may be on the premises does not give officers a blanket authorization to use unnecessary force upon every occupant.


Special Weapons and Tactics teams (SWAT) — in this case the SERT team — are called to assist in the most dangerous of law enforcement missions. SWAT operators are often required to enter highly dangerous locations and tactics often rely on stealth, speed, immediate control of suspects, and if necessary, firepower.

Nonetheless, SWAT operators, notwithstanding the often high degree of danger they confront, are still bound by the reasonableness clause of the Fourth Amendment. [9] Dangerous situations do not provide legal authority to suspend the constitution. Likewise, there is no absolute immunity from civil or criminal prosecution for SWAT operators because they face potential danger.

Police officers have the constitutional authority to detain occupants during the execution of a search warrant [10] and to use reasonable force to effectuate the detention. [11] They may use only reasonable force to control noncompliant individuals. [12] Excessive force is simply never permitted even in dynamic and dangerous SWAT operations.

1. The identity of the officer who zip-tied Jeffrey, pulled him to his feet, slapped and repeatedly punched him is in dispute. Jeffrey suggests it was Officer McGarvey, but a police report indicates it was Officer Vincente Lopez.

2. The opinion does not mention the whereabouts of Mark at the time of the search. This may indicate that he was not home.

3. Anglemeyer, et al. v. Ammons, et al. (No. 22-2788) (3d Cir. 2024).

4. In deciding qualified immunity issues, appellate courts only consider disputed facts asserted by the plaintiff. Here the court was critical of the decision of the district court judge to deviate from the procedural rule. The court explained, “[T]he District Court failed to construe the evidence in favor of each plaintiff. Instead, the District Court predominantly credited the officers’ version of events. But when viewing the evidence in the non-movants’ [i.e. plaintiffs’] favor, as we must at this stage of the case, a reasonable jury could find that the officer or officers who harmed each plaintiff used objectively unreasonable force.” Here, in making the qualified immunity analysis, the law enforcement assertion of disputed facts cannot be considered by the court.

5. (Quoting, Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989)).

6. The court is drawing the inference that Benson could not have mistaken the father for the son.

7. The identity of the officer who struck Richard was in dispute, but the court reviewed the identification issue and adopted Richard’s contention that it “must have been Officer Benson.”

8. See note 1, for a comment indicating a dispute concerning the identity of the officer that raised Jeffrey by the zip-tie and punched him repeatedly.

9. The Fourth Amendment protects “persons” from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

10. See, Michigan v. Summers. 452 U.S. 692, 705 (1981),

11. Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93 (2005). In Muehler, SWAT operators executed a search warrant for guns at a suspected gang member’s residence. At the beginning of the search, they handcuffed four occupants who remained handcuffed and detained for the duration of the search. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the handcuffed detention of the occupants was reasonable.

12. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989)

John Michael Callahan served in law enforcement for 44 years. His career began as a special agent with NCIS. He became an FBI agent and served in the FBI for 30 years, retiring in the position of supervisory special agent/chief division counsel. He taught criminal law/procedure at the FBI Academy. After the FBI, he served as a Massachusetts Deputy Inspector General and is currently a deputy sheriff for Plymouth County, Massachusetts. He is the author of two published books on deadly force and an upcoming book on supervisory and municipal liability in law enforcement.

Contact Mike Callahan.