A Rehoboth Beach couple – the wife a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, the husband a disabled veteran taking medication for schizophrenia – say Delaware State Police officers beat and used a stun gun on the husband after finding him giving his wife a sponge bath when the family home they were in was raided in a search for drugs in June 2014.
The couple, Ruther and Lisa Hayes, allege in a federal lawsuit that police commanders failed to train officers in the “constitutional bounds and limits concerning the use of force,” especially when it came to interactions with disabled people.
Their two nephews were the targets of the raid and were arrested at the home, but police charged only one of them with drug crimes. He eventually pleaded guilty to a single charge: possession of drug paraphernalia.
In the lawsuit’s narrative, members of the DSP’s Special Operations Response Team entered a bedroom to find Lisa Hayes on a bed and Ruther Hayes cleaning her with a sponge bath. Lisa Hayes’s wheelchair was in the room; five other family members in the home had already told officers that Lisa Hayes could not move her legs.
But with weapons pointed at Lisa Hayes, the police officers used profanity and “shouted at her to do that which she could not: stand up,” the lawsuit says.
When Ruther Hayes tried to cover her with a sheet, the lawsuit says, officers pushed him down, punched him repeatedly and hit him twice with a stun gun. After the raid, Ruther Hayes was detained and charged with resisting arrest. The charges were later dropped.
Cerebral palsy makes speaking difficult and means Lisa Hayes relies on a wheelchair. In an interview, she said the raid made her fearful of even entering her mother’s home, where the raid took place.
“I feel not only degraded, humiliated; I feel like they didn’t treat me as a human being,” Hayes said Sunday. “I relive that day when they came in on me and them yelling at me to get up when they knew that I couldn’t get up.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware is representing the Hayes family in the lawsuit. The defendants named in the lawsuit “violated our clients’ rights that they have under federal law,” said Richard Morse, an attorney with the ACLU. In a statement, Morse said “the use of excessive force on Mr. and Mrs. Hayes is unconscionable.”
The DSP raid happened at the Claymont home of Lisa Hayes’s mother around dawn on June 30, 2014. The Hayes family arrived there the day before, intending to stay for two weeks so that their young daughter, Legacy, could attend an ice skating camp each day in Newark.
Just before 6 a.m., the lawsuit says, Ruther and Lisa Hayes were in a back bedroom of the home. Lisa Hayes’s two children and her mother were in the living room when officers burst in through a front door. The three of them were told to sit, and they did, while telling officers repeatedly about Lisa Hayes and her disability.
“You don’t have to keep saying she is disabled. We get it,” one of the officers – the lawsuit refers to them as operators – allegedly responded.
Also in the home were the two men police really wanted: Joey L. Guy, 30, and Louis H. Scott, 33. Lisa Hayes is their aunt; the two men lived in the Claymont home. A search warrant obtained from Justice of the Peace Court stated there was probable cause to look for drugs, paraphernalia, records of drug transactions, guns and ammunition and cash in the home, the lawsuit says. The warrant authorized police to search anyone they found in the house.
Scott was asleep on a couch, and was immediately handcuffed when operators entered the house, the lawsuit says. Guy was asleep in a bedroom; he, too, was quickly handcuffed and detained, according to the suit. Both nephews told officers their aunt was disabled. Scott told officers his aunt could not walk, and an operator replied, “That’s enough out of you,” according to the lawsuit.
Officers approached the bedroom where Lisa and Ruther Hayes were, and Ruther Hayes heard noise and looked out of the room, the lawsuit says. Lisa Hayes was in the bedroom, half-dressed during the sponge bath.
“Mr. Hayes asked the operators to wait while he covered his wife and turned to shut the door,” the lawsuit says. But officers – identified in the lawsuit as a trooper named Christopher Popp, a Cpl. Doughty and a Cpl. Torres – “rammed it open.”
This is what the lawsuit says happened next:
• “Several operators leveled their assault rifles at Mrs. Hayes, who was lying on the bed naked from the waist down, and shouted, ‘This is a raid! Get the [expletive] up!’ Mrs. Hayes cried, ‘I can’t get up!’ The operators screamed their commands again.”
• “Mrs. Hayes’ wheelchair was right next to the bed, and right next to the operators, as they pointed their assault rifles at her and screamed at her to stand … Her lower body, which was unclothed, went into spasms and her legs locked open.”
• Ruther Hayes backed up, said he was a disabled veteran and gave the officers a military ID card. He “tried to lay a sheet over Mrs. Hayes in order to cover her,” and at that, operators “grabbed Mr. Hayes’ arms and held him in place… [and] began to punch him repeatedly. Because Mr. Hayes [a disabled veteran] did not immediately fall, an operator said, ‘he must have been well trained.’ ” Cpl. Doughty, the lawsuit says, was one of the officers throwing punches.
• An officer discharged a stun gun on Ruther Hayes’s shoulder, and he fell to the ground, “smashing his nose into the hardwood floor and drawing blood. After the operators had Mr. Hayes on the ground, they continued to punch him,” and stunned him a second time.
• “Mrs. Hayes was lying on the bed, unable to move, while she was forced to listen and watch as the operators beat and tasered her husband. She was scared that they were going to kill him.” Lisa Hayes cried that she was having a heart attack; at that point, officers “stopped beating Mr. Hayes and called for a medic.”
• The whole time the officers were in the bedroom, the lawsuit says, “the nephews were the subjects of the search warrant and both of them were already under [police] control.”
Court records show no drug-related charges were filed against Guy, one of the nephews, in the wake of the raid. He was detained after the raid for a violation of probation charge stemming from a March 2014 conviction on two drug possession charges.
Scott, the other nephew, was charged in October 2014 with possessing drugs, illegal possession of prescription medication and possessing drug paraphernalia, court records show. In November, he pleaded guilty to the paraphernalia charge, and the other drug charges were dismissed.
The named defendants in the lawsuit are Popp, Doughty, Torres and a Cpl. Ballinger, as well as Nathaniel McQueen Jr., superintendent of Delaware State Police, and the agency itself. A spokesman for the Delaware State Police, Sgt. Richard Bratz declined to comment on the lawsuit when contacted about it Monday.
“As with any lawsuit filing, we would not be able to discuss its specifics or details due to the pending litigation,” Bratz said.
The lawsuit asks a federal judge to award Ruther and Lisa Hayes damages for suffering the effects of excessive force, battery, emotional distress, false arrest, negligence and other alleged counts. The lawsuit also asks the court to compel Delaware State Police to change its policies and training “to avoid further instances of excessive force, improper use of Tasers, discrimination against disabled persons, and other police misconduct.”
Also named in the lawsuit are 75 “John Doe” defendants – all the officers who participated in the raid, policy-making officials in the Delaware State Police and police commanders who made the decision to send the agency’s Special Operations Response Team to the house that day. Those are placeholder defendants, the ACLU said, whom the organization expects to name during the lawsuit’s discovery process.
“We don’t know exactly how many officers were involved or what their names are,” said Kathleen MacRae, ACLU of Delaware’s executive director.
Lisa Hayes said the raid changed her husband’s personality and worsened his mental state, making his schizophrenia more acute. Lisa Hayes has studied to work in the counseling field, and she completed an internship late last year in the Cape Henlopen High School’s counseling office, she said. But the mental anguish she feels about the raid, she said, has halted any progress she was making toward that career.
When her family went back to the home where she grew up for Thanksgiving last year, she said, it triggered distressing memories of the raid, and she retreated to her car after dinner.
“When I do go there now, I don’t go in the house,” Lisa Hayes said. “My mom goes to the car to see me.”