The family of a Sonoma County man who died during a law enforcement raid of his home last year filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in San Francisco today against county officials.
Family members of Glenn Swindell, who died at the age of 39 on May 17, 2014, gathered this afternoon with their attorneys in San Francisco to discuss the raid carried out against Swindell by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office after law enforcement assistance was requested at his home in Larkfield-Wikiup in unincorporated Sonoma County.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco this morning, states that Swindell’s death was “a profound and unimaginable loss” to his family and alleges that his death was a direct result of sheriff’s deputies violation of his constitutional rights.
The plaintiffs allege that the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and their Special Weapons and Tactics unit acted without reasonable cause and “gained unauthorized, unwarranted, and reckless entry into Glenn’s home, deployed numerous concussion bombs, and later pumped numerous rounds of chemical agents into the confined attic quarters where Glenn sought refuge.”
The lawsuit alleges that law enforcement’s unreasonable use of force created a situation that resulted in Swindell’s death. It maintains that law enforcement officers responded to a minor service call with “violent militarized police force.”
After deputies made entrance into the home, Swindell was eventually found dead inside the attic, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the family’s attorneys, Arnoldo Casillas and Jon Melrod.
Casillas and Melrod said that the autopsy report has not yet been released, but said the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office deployed a cocktail of tear gas and pepper-spray into the enclosed attic.
“The poisonous gas quickly disabled Glenn due to the excruciating pain in his skin, eyes, throat and lungs. Trapped in the attic gas-chamber and in horrific pain, Glenn shot himself once and died from the gunshot wound,” Casillas and Melrod wrote in a statement released today.
“They provoked his death,” Casillas said.
Among the claims listed in the lawsuit was that the sheriff’s office conducted an unreasonable search and seizure and violated Glenn Swindell’s freedom of speech and expression as well as his right to keep and bear arms.
Sarah Swindell, Glenn’s wife, said today that she and her husband had argued the night of May 16, and he took their children and locked her out of their house.
She called 911 to get assistance and explained to the dispatcher that no violence had occurred but that she wanted to get her children out.
When deputies arrived, her husband handed over the children but refused to leave the house, expressing a fear of law enforcement.
The attorneys maintain that the deputies surveyed Glenn Swindell’s Facebook postings and discovered that he had a growing fear of law enforcement.
He didn’t want to let them into the house as he was concerned about overzealous policing, the family’s attorneys said.
Deputies also discovered that he had registered firearms inside the home.
The lawsuit claims that sheriff’s deputies and their supervisors wrongfully and negligently declared him a barricaded suspect and undertook a siege of his home.
“I expected help, but instead my world was torn apart,” Sarah Swindell said today.
Outside the home that night, Sarah urged the deputies to deescalate, but she was handcuffed and told that if she didn’t cooperate, they would take her children from her.
She said her husband, who worked for 22 years at Safeway, loved to garden and had aspirations of opening a family garden center.
“I always felt safe with Glenn,” she said.
The lawsuit alleges that the SWAT unit and deputies, comprised of about 50 people, used military equipment to enter the home and that “a full-scale militarized assault ensued upon Glenn Swindell’s home.”
According to Casillas, “They pumped canister, after canister, after canister, after canister of tear gas” into the attic.
Casillas said he expects a jury will find this an intentional killing and said he hopes that this lawsuit will help hold those who acted that night against Glenn Swindell, accountable.
Glenn Swindell’s mother, Deborah Belka, who spoke with her son via telephone while law enforcement surrounded the house that night, said her son expressed fear that he would be killed by law enforcement, just like they killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez.
Glenn Swindell’s brother Rick, who is not listed as a plaintiff on the lawsuit, said he just wants the truth about what happened that night.
He said his brother “is the last person in the world that you could consider suicidal.”
According to a statement released by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office the same day Glenn Swindell died, they described the argument between Sarah and Glenn Swindell as a “physical altercation” in which the husband had restricted the wife’s ability to freely move from the vehicle.
According to sheriff’s deputies, about an hour after Glenn Swindell released the children, the dialogue between the deputies and suspect was discontinued.
The Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Unit, which consisted of a SWAT Team, hostage negotiators and other support staff were then summoned to the scene.
According to the statement released by the sheriff’s office, “Many attempts were made to reestablish dialogue with the suspect but were all to no avail. Several hours later, a search of the residence found the suspect had committed suicide.”
Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News