First, they breached the front door with a battering ram. Then, Bowling Green police officers ordered a Marine veteran of the Iraq War and his wife, a special education teacher, to the floor of their home and slapped handcuffs on them.
The search warrant police were executing was intended for someone else.
Michael Hutchison and his wife, Stacie, recently reached a $5,000 settlement with the city of Bowling Green for the July 11, 2016, raid. The lead detective in a bank fraud investigation, Jason Franks, was given a written reprimand in August for failing to exercise due diligence in verifying the home’s occupants.
The settlement was reached nine months after the city’s claims representatives, Mayfield-based Collins & Co. Inc., sent the Hutchisons a letter stating that the company found no negligence on the city’s part and denied the couple’s claim for damages.
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A city representative called Michael Hutchison before he received the letter, telling him he would receive a denial letter and offering on behalf of the city to pay to repair the couple’s front door on the condition that the Hutchisons keep their mouths shut, Michael Hutchison said.
“I didn’t think it was right,” Michael Hutchison said about the nondisclosure agreement the city asked him to sign. “They didn’t want us talking about it. It was saying the city wasn’t at fault for what happened. The city was at fault, and it should be public knowledge. If I signed that, then nobody would know that this kind of thing happens.”
Michael Hutchison repairs office electronics for a living. At the time of the raid on his home, he was assigned to repair electronic equipment at the police department. Franks, the detective, told Hutchison after the incident that it was “unfortunate,” Hutchison said. The police department had not, as of Friday afternoon, directly apologized to the couple.
The man whose home Franks intended for his colleagues to search that day is a black man who is shorter and weighs 100 pounds more than Hutchison, who is white. The Hutchisons have owned their home outside the city limits in the Bristow community since January 2016, six months before the search.
One car in their driveway is registered to Michael Hutchison, and the other is registered to both Michael and Stacie. The water and electricity are in Michael Hutchison’s name, he said. Police declined to tell the Daily News whether officers checked any of that information before the search.
Hutchison said Franks showed him a Warren County property valuation record showing that the Hutchisons owned the house. In Franks’ heavily redacted city personnel records, obtained through an open records request, there is a property valuation record included as part of an internal investigation.
The name and address on the property valuation record were redacted by the city, but the dates coincide with the incident and with the time frame the Hutchisons bought their house.
Search warrant affidavits provided to the Hutchisons show that three houses — including the Hutchisons’ — were searched simultaneously that day during the bank fraud investigation. The affidavit for the Hutchisons’ house shows that Franks relied on an internet search of a business associated with the investigation. That search listed the business address as the Hutchisons’ house. He also relied on a home address listed with the police department for the man named in the search warrant. That man is thought to have lived in the house in 2015, according to information contained in Franks’ disciplinary action in his personnel file.
A Facebook post made by the man listed in the search warrant shows that the man moved to Florida at least a month before the July search. The man’s Facebook profile and information on his Facebook wall was not, as of Friday afternoon, blocked from public view, meaning anyone, including the police, could have looked at his Facebook account.
Both Police Chief Doug Hawkins and Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson, a retired city police officer, declined to answer questions about the incident and instead issued written statements to the Daily News.
“The Bowling Green Police Department strives to deliver the best possible police services to those we serve but, even with the best of intentions, mistakes happen,” Hawkins said in his statement. “On July 11, 2016 the Bowling Green Police Department inadvertently served a search warrant on an incorrect address.
“On behalf of the Bowling Green Police Department, I sincerely apologize to the Hutchison family for the inconvenience and stress we may have caused them as a result of the execution of the search warrant at their address. The case has now been adjudicated through legal insurance process, and the officer who made the error disciplined. Moving forward, we will make every effort to insure that situations like this do not occur again.”
Wilkerson’s statement was similar. Neither Wilkerson nor Hawkins offered any explanation about how the BGPD will avoid such incidents in the future.
“On behalf of the City of Bowling Green, we deeply regret the error,” Wilkerson said in an email. “Although the search warrant was valid for the officers conducting the search, it was based on old information and resulted in searching the home (of) an innocent party. The city has settled with those who now occupy the home where the search occurred and were significantly inconvenienced. The city has also taken steps to ensure such an issue will not occur in the future. Again, we are sorry for our error.”
‘The wrong people’
Had the police breached the Hutchisons’ door moments earlier, they would have been met with gunfire, Michael Hutchison said. Law-abiding citizens don’t expect police to forcibly enter their homes, the couple said.
Michael Hutchison had recently been to a shooting range and had his AR-15 rifle, a shotgun and two pistols sitting on a dresser in the guest bedroom nearest the front door. Two minutes before his door was broken down, he was standing in that room. One of the guns was loaded. The others he had left out to clean.
Michael was in the shower in the master bathroom at the rear of the house when he heard Stacie scream.
Stacie Hutchison was in bed in the master bedroom with the couple’s 9-month-old daughter, Amelia, when she heard the driveway alarm sound as the first police car arrived. She thought the alarm was triggered by her neighbor’s dog, which regularly visits her mailbox post every morning.
But after the door was rammed open and she heard people yelling for her to get on the floor, she wrapped her arms around Amelia and lay on top of her daughter to protect her, not immediately realizing that the people in her house were police. Stacie was handcuffed, but she said the officers quickly removed them when they realized she was on top of a baby.
“I was just terrified,” she said. “They’re coming and screaming, ‘Get on the ground!’ so I laid on top of her. You didn’t know who was coming in the door. For someone who isn’t breaking any laws, you don’t envision the police coming into your home. I laid on the floor to protect her. We get cuffed and I looked up and see that it’s BGPD and they are leading us into our dining room. I thought, ‘I’m a special ed teacher and he’s a Marine. You’ve got the wrong people.’
“I’m thankful that she’s so young she won’t remember this,” she said of Amelia.
She’s also thankful the police didn’t enter the house earlier and that her husband’s guns weren’t where they usually are, because Michael “would have done what he’s trained to do, and they would have done what they were trained to do, and everybody would have been asking questions later.”
Michael Hutchison remained in handcuffs for about 45 minutes in his house, the couple estimatee. Police records estimate that he was in handcuffs for 30 minutes, even after a senior ranking officer at the scene, now-retired Capt. Glenn Bratcher, recognized him as a vendor who works on machines at the police department. Both Michael and Stacie were cooperative, Bratcher stated in his report.
Yet Hutchison remained in handcuffs for most of the time police were inside the house. He was first cuffed in the back, but Bratcher moved them to the front so Hutchison could use the bathroom.
Michael Hutchison bears no physical resemblance to the man whose name is listed on the search warrant. Even so, police asked him whether he had any knowledge of or involvement in the businesses listed in the fraud investigation. He told them he has only one job.
At one of the other houses that was searched that day, handcuffs were removed from the occupants of the home as soon as police deemed the house clear, according to police records.
Along with Bratcher, officer Jennie McShane and detectives Jared Merriss, Rebecca Robbins and Clifton Phelps executed the search warrant at the Hutchisons’ house. Phelps broken open the door with the battering ram. Police declined to answer who was in charge at the scene. Bratcher was the highest-ranking officer there.
“I completely respect everybody there,” Michael Hutchison said of the police. “Everybody who came through the door were following orders. They were following orders that were wrong.
“Our privacy was invaded unjustly because of their failure to do their job properly, and both sides were put in harm’s way.”
The search warrant was reviewed by the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and was signed by Warren District Judge Brent Potter.
“With all search warrants, we try and obtain as much information as possible to include in the affidavit,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron, who called the mistake unfortunate.
Even after learning the Hutchisons’ identities, officers confiscated the couple’s electronics, including two cellphones that, according to Robbins’ written account, were turned over to a detective who conducts digital forensic examinations of electronics. Robbins wrote in her account that she was “informed to give detective (Mike) Nade the cellphones to download, which I did.”
Police declined to answer whether a forensic exam was conducted on the Hutchisons’ electronics.
The Hutchisons said they agreed to give the police their electronics because they had been served with a search warrant for them. Michael retrieved the electronics later that day and gave police a letter that came to his house referencing one of the parties in the fraud investigation. The couple had received letters in the past regarding those parties and had marked them “return to sender” and sent them back.
The Hutchisons didn’t know that police had conducted an internal investigation until the past week, when they learned about it from the Daily News. No one interviewed them, they said.
“These people realized they were in the right place with the wrong people and scared the crap out of two respectable citizens,” Stacie Hutchison said. “Things could’ve gone south. They saw our guns. An apology would’ve been great at the time. I wish that it hadn’t taken so long to get our door paid for. We went ahead and fixed it right away. There was a 2 by 4 holding up my door. That was the only thing keeping it shut. They took my laptop. I was in the middle of my master’s (degree) class.”
She had to make an embarrassing admission to her professor that day that her work would be late.
There is nothing in Franks’ disciplinary record to suggest that Maj. Brian Harrell, who investigated the incident internally, made any attempt to contact the couple to hear their version of the events.
Police declined to say whether any of the five officers in the search and seizure were disciplined. In his written statement, Hawkins, the police chief mentioned only one officer being disciplined.
In a report included in Franks’ personnel file, Franks stated that the Warren County Sheriff’s Office attempted to contact a person whose name and address is redacted from the copy provided to the Daily News. The report appears to have Franks’ signature on it and is dated July 11, 2016. It says the sheriff’s office attempted to serve a summons in June 2016 “at the same address but did not make contact with anyone.”
Sheriff’s office records show that a deputy tried June 8 to serve an unrelated civil summons at the Hutchisons’ home for one of the people listed as affiliated with the bank fraud investigation, sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Tim Robinson said. The sheriff’s office did not make contact with anyone that day. A deputy returned the following day and indicated in that the person in the civil summons wasn’t at that address, Robinson said.
The deputy did, however, meet Michael Hutchison, who was home and spoke with the deputy. Hutchison told him how long he and his wife had lived in the home and that they had no knowledge of the person named in the civil summons. The deputy left, and no one from the sheriff’s office has returned, Hutchison said.
He said he doesn’t understand why police couldn’t communicate with the sheriff’s office before causing $1,800 in damage to his house.
“We’ve gone through lawyers. They’ve given us a check for our troubles. They paid for the solar light that got broke and the door that got broken,” Stacie Hutchison said. “Money can’t buy peace of mind. And I guess an apology can’t either, but that would be the courteous thing to do.”