A family is suing Fresno County, the Sheriff’s Office and Clovis Police Department for destroying their home by “military-like force” in a SWAT call to remove a man who holed himself up in their residence.
More than four dozen law enforcement vehicles were called to the property at 2191 S. Rolinda Ave., about seven miles west of Fresno, on June 11, 2016, for a five-hour standoff that eventually ended with the arrest of a man with a no-bail warrant and a lengthy criminal history.
A lawsuit filed last week in Fresno County Superior Court by Fresno lawyer C. Russell Georgeson on behalf of David and Gretchen Jessen claims that the sheriff’s office was negligent when it destroyed their family home, violating their state and federal constitutional rights, in order to remove “a single, solitary, unarmed, homeless, hungry person whose only theft from the Jessens’ home was one-half tomato, an ice cream bar and some milk.”
But Fresno County officials tell a different version. They say a dangerous man with a criminal history broke into the home and nobody knew his intentions, except that he refused to leave and threatened officers.
Law enforcement “had found, by accident, the perfect location to conduct a training exercise on a rural home, on a dead-end street in rural Fresno County.
Lawsuit filed by lawyer Russell Georgeson after SWAT call to remove man from home
The Jessens say that damage exceeded $150,000 on the 3,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, three-bath home. That amount includes damage to the house, personal property and being forced to leave their home for repairs and other costs related to destruction of their property.
The lawsuit said law enforcement officials “had found, by accident, the perfect location to conduct a training exercise on a rural home, on a dead-end street in rural Fresno County, where civilians were not present, civilians were not going to congregate.”
The Jessens never asked for law enforcement to come to their aid or use “military-like force … to invade their property and destroy their home in what obviously was a bizarre, self-indulgent training session.”
The lawsuit listed damage specifically, including: pulling the wall of an office off the foundation; flash bombing the laundry room and business office, breaking six windows; tear-gassing the laundry room; tear-gassing the kitchen, master bedroom, sewing room and a second bedroom. The lawsuit also said that doors were ripped out and exterior fencing destroyed.
The suspect, Chanly Un, was first discovered at another nearby home in a closet about 2 p.m. by construction workers, according to a Fresno County Sheriff’s Office press release detailing the incident.
The workers were able to get Un to leave, but then they saw him go to a neighboring home and break a window to get inside, and reported it to the Sheriff’s Office. The Jessens weren’t home at the time.
David Jessen then arrived at the scene, the lawsuit said, to find a large contingent of law enforcement officers. He was told by a sheriff’s official on site that “we have insurance for this.”
And after the SWAT call concluded, officers were overheard joking “that no one will be able to live in that house now,” the lawsuit said.
Guns in the house
But sheriff’s officials said the situation was potentially dangerous and they were threatened by Un.
Un, now 38, was not identified before he was removed from the home. He has a record of weapons violations and burglary. In this case, he pleaded no contest to burglary and threats in July and is in Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad. He was sentenced to four years and eight months.
The (Fresno) County Sheriff’s Office reasonably responded to the threat of violence by an armed suspect during this event.
Paul Nerland, Fresno County Human Resources director
When David Jessen was called by the sheriff’s office, he confirmed there were guns inside the house.
After he arrived, David Jessen tried to open the door to the home with deputies accompanying him. Un re-locked the door and “shouted out that he was armed and if anyone came inside he would shoot them.”
About three hours into the standoff, SWAT officers deployed tear gas in the home to get Un to surrender, but he refused. He also barricaded doors and told deputies not to come in or he would “shoot and kill them,” said a sheriff’s office press release issued later that night.
More than four hours into the standoff, the sheriff’s office deployed its bomb squad and used a camera-equipped robot that gave them a view of a room where Un was hiding. The SWAT team used tear gas in the that room, which forced him to leave the room. As he was moving around the house, SWAT officers arrested him.
The sheriff’s office reported that Jessen’s guns were found during a later search and they “were within Un’s reach” even though they learned later that he never had access to them.
“Based on the facts, the (Fresno) County Sheriff’s Office reasonably responded to the threat of violence by an armed suspect during this event,” said Paul Nerland, Fresno County human resources director.
In a claim filed with the county in August, the Jessens were seeking $750,000 for the damage to their home and emotional distress to the family for “home destruction and overreaction by county employees and other law enforcement.” After county supervisors rejected the claim, it allowed the Jessens to file a lawsuit.
The Jessens are seeking general damages, reasonable attorney fees, costs of the lawsuit and any additional costs the court rules is proper.
Attorneys for the Jessens could not be reached.