Tyler Harrington and his wife were asleep in their beds when four Harris County, Texas, Constable Officers burst into their home and held the terrified couple at gunpoint. While the cops eventually realized they were in the wrong house, they didn’t leave without admonishing the couple for keeping their door unlocked.
Harrington has now filed a lawsuit, arguing that the officers’ invasion of his home was an unconstitutional breach of his Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
On September 24, 2022, Officer James Lancaster responded to a call from a woman, named “Mrs. H” in the complaint, who said that she heard a knock at her back door. Lancaster spoke to Mrs. H and examined the outside of her property, finding nothing suspicious.
Mrs. H also told Lancaster that her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend would arrive to check out the house themselves. Mrs. H then decided to “get in her car and drive around until others came home.” When Mrs. H’s daughter and her boyfriend arrived, another neighbor, named “Mr. S,” called the police to report their truck as suspicious. When talking to dispatchers, Mr. S accidentally gave the wrong address for Mrs. H’s house, reporting Harrington’s address instead.
Soon, two more officers arrived. According to the complaint, Lancaster clearly should have known that dispatch had been given the wrong address. While pointing to Mrs. H’s house, he told the other officers, “That’s the house with the person knocking on the back door, that was the house earlier….I checked the one across the street.” In reference to Harrington’s address, he said he had “never been to this house.”
But the officers decided to enter the Harrington’s home anyway, testing both the front and back doors and finding them unlocked. A fourth officer arrived, and according to the suit, Lancaster told him that they were “waiting on the owner,” despite knowing that it was a different house than the one owned by Mrs. H, where the owner had left and was to return shortly.
Around midnight, two of the officers burst into the Harrington’s home with their guns drawn, shouting “Constable’s Office, come up with your hands out!” Harrington’s wife, whose full name wasn’t identified in the suit, was woken up by the officer’s shouting. She confirmed that she lived at the house, and one of the officers, Jared Lindsay ordered her to get her ID and come to the door.
Around the same time, Lancaster entered the home with his gun drawn, shouting the Spanish phrase for “hands up,” and began searching the home. As the officers held his wife at gunpoint, Tyler Harrington woke up and walked out of the bedroom, at which point the officers began pointing their guns at him as well, shouting questions at the couple.
Eventually, the officers realized they were at the wrong house but still led the couple back into their own home at gunpoint. After releasing the couple, Lindsay told them that “someone had reported people searching the front and back doors of this house,” adding that the caller had told them the owner was gone.
After again confirming that the Harringtons were the owners of their own home, the complaint claimed that Lindsay lectured the couple for not keeping their doors locked, telling them “because when we see a door unlocked like that, we’re gonna come in and make sure everybody’s safe.”
Several minutes later, the complaint alleges that Lindsay said of the couple, “Oh yeah they’re gonna complain…they’re gonna complain…we scared them.”
“No reasonable officer could have believed there was probable cause to enter and search Mr. Harrington’s house,” the complaint states. “Defendants’ flagrant disregard for Mr. Harrington’s constitutional rights subjected him to agonizing emotional pain, fear, severe and ongoing emotional injuries.”
Unfortunately, the Harringtons are far from the first people to be terrorized by police entering the wrong home. In 2020, Seattle police terrified an innocent woman when they burst into her apartment, which wasn’t even in the same building as the apartment they meant to search. In 2021, Illinois police detained a family for over six hours when they executed a search warrant on the wrong house. And a report released last year found that Chicago police raided the wrong house over 20 times between 2017 and 2020.