News & Politics

US Marshals Hold Innocent Family At Gun Point, Tell Them Not to Move Even After They Realize They've Got Wrong House

Four U.S. Marshals busted down the door of the wrong house and held an innocent family at gunpoint.

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It was 1:45 in the morning when James and Mildred Hill went to sleep after putting their granddaughter in bed. What came next for them shocked the Hills--and now they’ve filed suit, according to a report in the Courthouse News Service. The lawsuit was sparked by four U.S. Marshals busting down their door and holding them and their granddaughter at gunpoint.

The Hills have filed suit in federal court for assault and false imprisonment at the hands of U.S. Marshals. The suit was filed in the Eastern District Court in Montgomery Country in Pennsylvania. The judge in the case has ordered that the federal government must face their claims.

Here’s how the incident went down: when James and Mildred Hill went down after hearing a loud boom, James ran down the stairs. He was greeted by four armed Marshals who pointed guns at his head and ordered him to put his hands up or be shot. The other family members woke up and also had to go through the same terrifying ordeal of having U.S. Marshals point guns at them.

The U.S. Marshals were silent about what was going on. 5 minutes after they broke into the home, though, one Marshal said: “We have the wrong house. This is not the house[.] [I]t must be next door," according to the complaint. But before going next door, they told the family not to leave or move. 

Within a half an hour, the Marshals apologized for breaking down the door.

The family remained outraged, though, and filed suit in late 2012. The government tried to get the suit waved, but Judge Ronald Buckwalter denied the government’s motion. The government specifically tried to get the assault charge waived, but Buckwalter said: “The amended complaint states that the U.S. Marshals aimed their weapons at all plaintiffs. Such an action is clearly intended to cause apprehension of imminent harmful bodily contact.”

Buckwalter also dismissed the claim from the U.S. government that their actions were routine and done to ensure the safety of “innocent bystanders.” “Whether or not the behavior of the police officers was reasonable cannot be determined by the facts alleged in this amended complaint,” the judge said. “Consequently, it is inappropriate to dismiss the assault claim at this stage of the case...The facts alleged in the amended complaint, however, do not describe reasonable officer conduct...If the officers had no right to confine the Hills upon learning they were in the wrong house, they may have falsely imprisoned the family - regardless of whether or not the Marshals had an initial right to be in the house.”

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.