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Salt Lake City settles case of errant police raid

Published February 9, 2014 4:26 pm

Settlement • An attorney says the woman was not able to continue living there.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake City will pay $75,000 to the then-76-year-old woman whose door police rammed open during a mistaken drug raid in 2012.

The intended house was next door. The homeowner signed the settlement Nov. 25, 2013. The Tribune obtained a copy this month through a records request.

The settlement ends all of the homeowner's claims against the city. The attorney for the homeowner, Stephen Clark, said his client has not pursued a claim against the Drug Enforcement Administration, which had an agent present during the raid but was not implicated in the error.

Clark said settlement negotiations included discussions with the police department about what went wrong and changes that need to be made.

"Even the slight possibility this could happen to someone else was something that needed to be addressed," Clark said.

In an interview Thursday, Salt Lake City police Chief Chris Burbank said leadership in the narcotics unit was changed after the raid. Burbank said his department policies on search warrants are adequate.

"But in this particular case, the policy and procedures were not followed," Burbank added.

Burbank apologized for the raid shortly after it occurred.

The narcotics detective responsible for the mistake, Cooper Landvatter, received a 20-hour suspension for violating search-and-seizure policies, committing conduct unbecoming an officer and violating what the Salt Lake City Police Department refers to as its "Core Values."

Landvatter apparently confused the home, in the 200 East block of Hubbard Avenue (935 South), where he suspected residents were selling cocaine with the house next door, according to a report by the Salt Lake City Civilian Review Board. The search warrant had the correct address. But Landvatter conducted surveillance and took photographs of the house next door.

The photographs of the wrong house were shown to the officers in a briefing before the raid. No one noticed that the house number visible in the photos did not match the address listed on the search warrant.

Police had a "no knock" search warrant. An officer swung a battering ram to smash open the door and officers rushed in and pointed guns at the elderly woman alone inside. The officers quickly realized their mistake. The woman was not injured.

Believing the element of surprise had been lost, detectives did not try to serve the warrant on the correct house.

Internal affairs investigators also found a problem with what Landvatter told the judge who issued the search warrant. Landvatter wrote in an affidavit to the judge that he watched an informant buy drugs from the suspect's home.

But the review board report says Landvatter admitted to investigators that he lost sight of the informant as he went up the stairs of the home. Most of what Landvatter did see was in the side mirror of a car.

Property records show the woman has sold the home.

"She didn't feel as though she was able to return there," Clark said.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle ­— Clarification

An earlier version of this story, citing a Civilian Review Board report, referred to a SWAT team having participated in the raid. The review board investigator has clarified that While SWAT officers were present for a briefing, the raid was planned and executed by Salt Lake City's narcotics unit.