Why do police use a battering ram without first checking the doorknob on a low threat warrant? What if a small child was on the other side of the door and got seriously injured by the battering ram? The door and frame is likely to be damaged and may cost hundreds of dollars to replace but there is a small chance someone could also get injured.

I have seen where the landlord will let police in with a search warrant with 0 damage but in other cases they can devastate the house breaking and rummaging with a near 0 regard the property and tenants personal items.

Can the landlord sue for damages? Are police above criminal law for destruction of property in this matter when they don't at least try the unlocked door?

I understand that some damages in court could be argued as previous damage or damages needed for entry but what if you can prove it was intentional and unwarranted with no reason?

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    Not only are they above criminal law, they're above civil law for all reasonable purposes. Commented Aug 4, 2019 at 6:35

1 Answer 1


The police officers themselves are covered by Qualified Immunity - to put it briefly, a government official acting in their official capacity in a discretionary act (as in, they have some discretion in whether/how they carry out the act) is immune from suit so long as they pay reasonable deference to relevant law. In the case of the police, so long as the search or seizure itself is reasonable (either because there is a warrant, or because they had probable cause), they can take appropriately destructive measures to carry out their duty. Even if the search or seizure is later found to have been unreasonable, an officer may still have Qualified Immunity unless their action violated "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which reasonable person would have known" (Harlow v. Fitzgerald). However, a search/seizure doesn't give the police license for arbitrary destruction, whatever they do has to be reasonably pursuant to the legal search/seizure. For example, if a suspect is barricaded in a house with a gun, they can knock down doors, windows and walls to apprehend them. On the other hand, that does not mean the officers can then break open safes to try and find evidence - once their probable cause for the entry is fulfilled (apprehending the suspect), they need to get a warrant to do more than a plain sight search of the house. Warrants will specify what items are being searched for, so even with a warrant the police have to take reasonable measures to carry it out - an example of an unreasonable measure would be to tear into walls in order to try and find a stolen bicycle. On the other hand, tearing into walls could be justified if their warrant included searching for drugs from a dealer, where it is not uncommon to hide them in the walls.

States and the Federal Government enjoy Sovereign Immunity from suits in most cases. There are some exceptions, but none would apply in this case so long as the general policy of the police department was not illegal or unconstitutional. However, county and city governments do not enjoy Sovereign Immunity and state governments and the Federal Government often allow suits against them for negligence from their actors, so someone injured by unreasonable police action can usually try to recover damages from the officer's department.

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    What about a child or dog being injured from the battering ram?
    – Muze
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 21:58
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    @Muze You haven't seen all the stories with police breaking into a home and shooting someone's child dead, then getting paid leave for a few months before returning to the job like nothing happened?
    – forest
    Commented Aug 4, 2019 at 6:31
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    "Qualified immunity" in practice means that the police officer has immunity unless their act has specifically been found to be illegal in a court previously. cato.org/blog/…. This gave the police pretty much carte blanche for some pretty egregious behaviour e.g. techdirt.com/articles/20190321/07364341841/…. The number of legal precedents is increasing, so its becoming more likely that plaintiffs can find something, but its still pretty bad. Commented Aug 4, 2019 at 9:51
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    @Muze Whether or not someone is "low threat," if the target of a warrant won't unlock their door officers are going to be justified in breaking it down. They may choose not to, but they also don't want the alternative of having to siege a person's house. The police are expected to (and I think in the vast majority of cases do) make a good faith effort to avoid injury while they are carrying out their duties, but all police interactions can turn deadly for either side, and even someone who is "low threat" can behave like a cornered animal, so the police have to be prepared for that. Commented Aug 4, 2019 at 12:24
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    Doesn't this "qualified immunity" only mean that the claimants cannot directly sue the police officer personally? They can still sue the police department / the city / the government and get compensation for damages from the city itself. And the police officers might get scolded (or their bonuses cut) by their chief, but that's not in the control of the claimant.
    – vsz
    Commented Aug 4, 2019 at 13:05

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