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U.S. Liable Under FTCA for Trauma of Home Raid Resulting from Postal Service Employee's Misinforming Law Enforcement

by Mike Brodheim

A federal district judge in New York has held that the United States is liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for the emotional distress caused by a raid which resulted from misinformation negligently provided to law enforcement by a United States Postal Service employee.

On February 25, 2004, armed law enforcement officers raided 525 Cary Avenue, the home of Lillian Carter, in the mistaken belief that Kinte Carter, a suspected member of a drug gang, resided there. In fact, beyond the happenstance of sharing a common last name, Lillian Carter and Kinte Carter had no connection to each other.

Between 2002 and 2004, Special Agent Jon Ellwanger of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) was investigating narcotics activity and violent crime in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Staten Island. The investigation yielded indictments and arrest warrants for 28 suspected members of two rival drug gangs in the area. One of those suspects was Kinte Carter, who was believed to be armed and dangerous. ATF did not know where Kinte Carter lived. Confidential informants provided Agent Ellwanger with three or four addresses where Kinte Carter might be located. One of those addresses was 526 Cary Avenue, the residence next to Lillian Carter's.

ATF turned to the Postal Inspection Service, the law-enforcement branch of the United States Postal Service, to verify the addresses it had been provided. Through negligence, the request to verify 526 Cary Avenue resulted in Lillian Carter's home at 525 Cary Avenue being designated as a "good" address for Kinte Carter; the ATF's focus then shifted from 526 to 525 Cary Avenue.

Subsequently, in the early morning hours of February 25, 2004, with guns drawn, four ATF officers executed an arrest warrant for Kinte Carter at 525 Cary Avenue. Kinte Carter, of course, was not there; Lillian Carter, however, suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as the result of the raid of her home and was forced to move upstate, where she began receiving outpatient mental health treatment.

Her subsequent FTCA claim for damages was submitted to the judge, who found, in a well-reasoned opinion entered on July 20, 2010, found that under the circumstances of the case the federal government was not immune from suit and, on the merits, awarded Lillian Carter $300,000 for past and future emotional distress. See: Carter v. United States, 725 F.Supp.2d 346 (E.D.N.Y. 2010).

The federal government filed a motion to amend or alter the judgment, citing errors by the district court. That motion was rejected on January 13, 2011, with the court affirming its prior ruling and judgment. See: Carter v. United States, 760 F.Supp.2d 281 (E.D.N.Y. 2011).

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