Former University student Phillip Piper and Eugene resident Julie Dickenson are suing several Eugene Police Department officers for allegedly entering Piper and Dickenson's apartment without a warrant, detaining them and combing through their belongings for more than an hour in a search that uncovered nothing illegal.
In a complaint filed in federal district court March 18, Piper and Dickenson asked for an injunction to prevent similar searches against them and others; punitive damages "sufficient to punish (the EPD officers) and deter others from like conduct;" compensatory damages; and attorneys' fees and cost.
No trial date has been set.
Piper was registered in the University community education program during winter term, but he is not registered this term. He has taken classes since fall 2002.
EPD spokeswoman Pam Olshanski said Piper filed a complaint with EPD's internal affairs department Jan. 10, 2003, but that the ensuing investigation found no criminal wrongdoing or policy violations by the officers. EPD officials would not comment further about the incident because the lawsuit is still open.
According to the complaint, former EPD officer Roger Eugene Magaņa and current officer Melvin Thompson knocked on Piper and Dickenson's door at 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 26, 2002. Piper awoke, went to the door and attempted to look through the peephole, but one of the officers obscured it. Unaware of who was outside, Piper refused to open the door.
Thompson and Magaņa, who has since been indicted on kidnapping, rape and misconduct charges in separate incidents, then identified themselves as Eugene police officers, but "given the officers' prior actions, Piper did not believe them and refused to open the door without a warrant and identification," according to the complaint.
Magaņa said in a police report that he contacted Sgt. William Harris to ask permission to enter the residence to perform a welfare check. During a welfare check, officers may enter a residence without a warrant to locate a missing person, prevent injury or help an injured person.
Harris, who is also being sued, authorized entry "despite the lack of circumstances warranting a welfare check," the complaint states.
Magaņa stated in his report that he had been called to the residence because of a noise violation; however, the only audible noise outside the residence was a "radio that was not playing loudly," according to the complaint. The officers cited Piper and Dickenson for noise violations, but they were later acquitted in Eugene Municipal Court.
Magaņa and Thompson contacted apartment tenant Eric Bradley, who was working part time in maintenance and cleaning, asking him for a key to the apartment. Bradley initially refused but provided a key after officers "illegally threatened" the man with arrest, according to the complaint.
Magaņa and Thompson entered the home and ordered Piper, Dickenson and two houseguests out of their beds and onto the living room couch. They were not allowed the use of the bathroom while officers searched the apartment, combing through private dresser drawers and garbage cans.
"I had no clue who was pounding on the door until the Eugene Police stormed into our home and aggressively ransacked our personal belongings without any reason," Piper said in a March 18 press release. "We had no clue why they were in our home and were very afraid of what they might do to us."
Piper and Dickenson are also suing the city to ensure that it "institutes and follows the policies and procedures designed to prevent other Eugene residents from being harmed in a similar manner," according to the press release.
"The following allegation is likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery: The City of Eugene has made or allowed numerous other similar incidents of unreasonable search and seizure, and money damages are therefore inadequate to remedy the injury, making injunctive relief necessary and appropriate," the complaint stated.
University senior Patrick McEachern faced three charges relating to a party he hosted in late 2002 after Eugene Police climbed onto a balcony and entered his apartment. Similar to Piper and Dickenson's case, however, a municipal judge dropped the charges against the business administration major after finding that EPD illegally entered the residence.
EPD Spokeswoman Kerry Delf said the department has received complaints about welfare checks in the past, but exact numbers have not been compiled.
In the press release, Piper said the failed police review process could have prevented Magaņa's other crimes. Magaņa has been indicted on 51 charges, ranging from rape to kidnapping and official misconduct, and will appear for trial in June.
Olshanski said the illegal entry lawsuit and Magaņa's arrest aren't related in any way.
"The other officer that was named in this had nothing to do with the ongoing Magaņa investigation related to the sex crimes," she said.