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DEA storms the wrong house, traumatizes innocent couple

By Hempology | September 28, 2007

The Press Democrat, CA
25 Sep 2007
Lori A. Carter


Damages Sought Against DEA Agents, Petaluma Officer In Mistaken ID Case

A North Bay couple whose home was raided by drug agents has filed a federal lawsuit against the officers, claiming they violated their civil and constitutional rights in a slipshod investigation that ended with the case being dismissed for lack of evidence.

Petaluma Police Officer Paul Acconero and U.S.  Drug Enforcement Administration Agents Seth McMullen and John Silva are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.

The lawsuit, which accuses the officers of Rambo-style tactics, was filed by Carl Keane and his girlfriend, Chieko Strange, of Mill Valley.

The couple, who both work in the fashion departments of Saks Fifth Avenue in San Francisco, say they filed the lawsuit to “redress one of the worst nightmares of any law-abiding citizen.”

The three officers were among a group of DEA agents who burst into the couple’s home Dec.  19 using a search warrant signed by a Sonoma County judge in an investigation into a cross-country shipment of six pounds of marijuana from a Petaluma Mail Depot the previous month. 

The mail shop owner initially identified Keane as the man who mailed the pot, but in further investigation she failed to pick him out of a six-photo lineup, according to court papers and attorneys.

The lawsuit claims DEA agents improperly suggested Keane’s identification by showing the woman his driver’s license photo and asking if he was the man who mailed the package.

Keane’s return address was listed on the parcel, with the name “C.  Keane.” It was addressed to a 3-year-old girl named Kerry Keane in New Jersey, who Carl Keane says is no relation.

No drugs, drug residue, money or weapons were found during the search of Keane’s house, which included the use of Accornero’s drug-sniffing dog.

Still, Sonoma County prosecutors charged Keane with felony possession of marijuana and he was booked into Sonoma County Jail.

Prosecutors later conceded there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Keane, 49, had committed any crime and dismissed the case “in the interest of justice.” The lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S.  District Court.  No hearing dates have been set.

The Petaluma city attorney couldn’t be reached to comment Monday.

A DEA spokeswoman said she hadn’t seen the lawsuit and declined to comment, referring further inquiries to the agency’s attorneys in Washington.

Michael Coffino, a San Francisco lawyer, said he is representing Keane and Strange without charge to help expose the “over the top and abusive” treatment they suffered.

“They were so physically and emotionally abusive and excessive in how they handled them,” he said.  “These are two very low-key, docile people who were treated as if they were ax murderers.”

Strange, 63, said in the suit that a DEA agent held her down with a boot on her head as agents stormed through the house yelling, “Where are your weapons?” and “You know why we’re here.” The officers damaged the home furnishings, threatened and intimidated the couple, ransacked their personal belongings and left the home “violated and in disarray,” the suit claims.

The couple says police violated their constitutional rights when they failed to properly announce their presence or identify themselves, didn’t have permission to seize their property or arrest Keane, lacked probable cause to search and used excessive force.

Keane says he spent about $20,000 trying to clear his name, and still feels traumatized.

“Thanks to the DEA’s incompetence, we are emotionally spent and if it were not for my parents’ help, financially challenged,” he said.  “You wake up to people with rifles storming into the home.  Now, it feels completely violated.”

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