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Utah couple sue law enforcement agencies over break-in

Published May 21, 2013 4:43 pm

Crime • Husband, wife suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from Christmas-time scare.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

They had the wrong house.

A week before Christmas, police officers broke into Christopher and Kim Dettle's home at 278 E. 700 North in Richfield and forced them to the ground at gunpoint, causing them to allegedly suffer injuries. But when the officers asked about their intended target, Christopher Dettle informed them she lived down the street.

"Eventually, one of the officers, after apparently verifying the address, exclaimed'S—-, we are at the wrong house,' " according to a federal lawsuit the couple filed Monday against the Richfield Police Department, the Sevier County Sheriff's Office and the Utah Highway Patrol.

Justin Heideman, the Dettles' attorney, said they haven't sorted out the extent to which the three agencies were involved that night.

But at least two of the officers had been to the house they were supposed to search, according to the complaint. The Dettles also allege that their house number, displayed on the outside of the home, was clearly lit. An officer also had parked in front of their mailbox, headlights illuminating their address.

But none of that deterred the home invasion on the evening of Dec. 18, 2012.

About 7:15 p.m., the Dettles were watching television in bed when their pets began making a ruckus. When Christopher Dettle, 52, went to check on the pets he heard violent crashes. Without announcing their presence, officers had broken through two doors of the house.

Dettle was alarmed when he saw the red dots from the cops' laser sights. Armed officers surrounded him and ordered him to the ground.

"Yes sir, yes sir," he said, according to the complaint.

Kim Dettle, 44, also frightened by the commotion, went into the hallway where officers aimed their weapons at her and ordered her to the ground.

According to the complaint, she had a back condition that had required multiple surgeries and getting down on the floor exacerbated the condition. Christopher Dettle cut his hand as he got on the floor, which required stitches and may have caused permanent injury, the complaint adds.

When Kim Dettle heard a noise from her garage, she stepped outside and alleged an officer pointed a gun at her and ordered her to tell him where the other police officers were. She explained they had the wrong house, and the officer left.

Shaken and upset, the Dettles drove themselves to a hospital. An officer met them at the emergency room and remained with them until they left.

The couple subsequently were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. They also had to pay to replace their broken doors.

The complaint seeks at least $500,000 in damages.

Richfield police Chief John Evans and Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Todd Johnson declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. The Sevier County Sheriff's Office could not immediately be reached for comment. The Utah Local Governments Trust, which represents the agencies, also declined comment.

The only criminal charges filed against the intended target since Dec. 17 are two counts of intoxication, according to a search of court records.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda