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Arena v. County of Suffolk (Challenging aggressive police search of Suffolk County home)

This case involves the question of whether police officials engaged in a material misrepresentation in order to secure a “no-knock” warrant and whether the officers engaged in an abusive and unreasonable search and seizure when they entered a suburban home in the middle of the night with a SWAT team of more than ten officers armed with automatic weapons. This case grew out of an incident in which Suffolk County Police Officers, along with police officers from the Village of Asharoken, came to the home of Michael and Karen Arena in SWAT uniforms and with automatic weapons. They came with a “no knock” warrant to search for a computer and bomb-making equipment. The search was based upon the allegation that Eric Arena, a junior high school student, had sent an e-mail that threatened to detonate a bomb at the local middle school. Arriving at the Arena home at 2 o’clock in the morning, more than ten police officers simply broke down the front and back doors of the house, pulled Mr. and Mrs. Arena out of their beds, placed them up against a wall and held the guns to their heads. They behaved similarly with Eric. In addition, the police officers ransacked Eric’s room and attempted to coerce Eric into confessing by threatening to ransack the remainder of the house if he did not confess. The Arenas sued in federal court alleging that the police officers secured the warrant on the basis of material misrepresentation. Furthermore, they alleged that the behavior of the police officers was unreasonable in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that police officials engaged, inter alia, in battery, false arrest and false imprisonment, in violation of state common law principles.

In September 2002, the District Court denied both the county’s motion to dismiss and the plaintiff’s cross-motion for summary judgment and concluded that the case should proceed to trial. The case was settled in August 2003, with the county paying a damage award to the Arena family. 

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