Ninth Circuit to DEA: putting a gun to an 11-year-old's head is not OK

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals told the DEA that holding a gun to an 11-year-old girl's head constitutes “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” and they should stop doing it. No doubt the DEA will appeal the ruling.

At 7 a.m. on January 20, 2007, DEA agents battered down the door to Thomas and Rosalie Avina’s mobile home in Seeley, California, in search of suspected drug trafficker Louis Alvarez. Thomas Avina met the agents in his living room and told them they were making a mistake. Shouting “Don’t you fucking move,” the agents forced Thomas Avina to the floor at gunpoint, and handcuffed him and his wife, who had been lying on a couch in the living room. As the officers made their way to the back of the house, where the Avina’s 11-year-old and 14-year-old daughters were sleeping, Rosalie Avina screamed, “Don’t hurt my babies. Don’t hurt my babies.”

The agents entered the 14-year-old girl’s room first, shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl, who was lying on her bed, rolled onto the floor, where the agents handcuffed her. Next they went to the 11-year-old’s room. The girl was sleeping. Agents woke her up by shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl’s eyes shot open, but she was, according to her own testimony, “frozen in fear.” So the agents dragged her onto the floor. While one agent handcuffed her, another held a gun to her head.

Moments later the two daughters were carried into the living room and placed next to their parents on the floor while DEA agents ransacked their home. After 30 minutes, the agents removed the children’s handcuffs. After two hours, the agents realized they had the wrong house—the product of a sloppy license plate transcription --and left.

Reason -- Ninth Circuit to DEA: putting a gun to an 11-Year-Old's head is not OK


  1. The whole militarization of the police is Not OK, but they’re never going to figure that out, are they? Sadness.

    1. “They” have already figured out that a paramilitarized police force and other similar agencies serves their purposes, and those of the 1%, quite well. And they certainly aren’t going to let a little thing like the occasional breach of the civil rights of the 99% – much less a drug war suspect – bother them.

      1.  Most people don’t understand things until it happens to them directly.  “Turning police into paramilitaries is bad?  Whatever, it is just the trash who are affected.”

        1. Mark, this is so true. (And in the case of global climate change, this particular aspect of human behavior is going to be very painful for the species.)

        2. I think the operative theme is “trailer park mobile home”.  The same couple in an upper class gated community wouldn’t have had this happen to them.

    2. This should have totally been included with this post. It was running through my head the whole time I was reading it, what a nightmare!

  2. But remember kids, if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.

    They put a gun to an 11-year-old’s head. Fucking hell.

    1.  And if they’d screwed up by only a tiny fraction more and shot her, then what do you think they’d have done. There’d have been four bodies pretty quickly.

    1.  But I bet you never had to pull a gun on any of them, eh?   Because that would be really weak, you know.  I’d totally laugh in your face about it, pretty much forever after.

      1.  Really objectionable. Have you ever been around any children at all? Ever? They can be really annoying.

        And yes, I have. Solved the problem right away.

        Which is, I suppose, something to remember when laughing in faces.

        Unless you’re older than 11, I mean. That changes the rules, usually.

        1. My annoying, objectionable children and I are laughing at you, right now, even as you read this.     (^o^)/

    2.  And I’ve known some nice drug dealers. I guess the lesson is that you should really get to know a person before you threaten to blow their brains out.

  3. I’m running out of smarmy sarcastic comments to mask THE RAGE INSIDE when I read bullshit like this.

    And the Tea Party congressweasels will ensure the DEA budget increase is paid for with drug treatment program money, or something.

  4. Shouldn’t putting a gun to any head be scrutinized? I really thought the police weren’t in the biz of blowing peoples brains out, even the ‘badguys’…right?

  5. Putting a gun to an 11-year-old’s head is not OK

    Jeez, all these rules to remember!

    1. Especially since this decision presumably doesn’t carry any weight outside the Ninth Circuit.  In the rest of the US, putting guns to the heads of 11-year-olds is still standard operating procedure.  Hopefully agents will be reminded prior to raids as to which rules are in effect.  Perhaps an appeal will reduce this ambiguity.

    2. and what’s with the profanity?  If someone at my company started swearing like that, they’d be escorted outside (and probably be looking for new job).  I realize intimidation is a technique used to quell potentially aggressive suspects but an 11 year old?  (Unless those agents are real wussies)

  6. I try not to invoke masculinity because it makes you think all other gender traditions are good, but a cop who needs to handcuff an 11 year old girl, or feels the need to hold a gun to her head while another cop is cuffing her? That’s pretty low machismo. Would Dirty Harry or John Wayne feel threatened enough by an 11 year old girl to hold a gun on her? (Okay, if she was Native American and you’re watching The Searchers, yeah, but otherwise, not too much.) As a cop, how do you explain to your family that you felt threatened by a little girl and had to keep a gun on her? Same kind of thing goes through my head when I hear about old people and kids getting tased. You really couldn’t handle that with your bare hands?

      1.  Hey, if you don’t traumatize a little kid the terrorists win.

        Good to see the bullies and aimless kids in high school found jobs.

    1. Unfortunately, that’s how they’re trained. It’s an automatic action. Everyone gets a gun to their head automatically if they don’t do as they are told within nanoseconds.

      They family is lucky they didn’t have a dog. Those get shot on-sight during an operation like this.

      1. I wonder under what circumstances they would have considered pulling the trigger? Because it seems to me that if you point a gun, you must be prepared to fire it, or at least have a reason to believe that you might have to.
        I just entirely don’t get how ANYONE could think, even when busting an actual drug-dealer (and not, as it turned out, some innocents in completely the wrong house) that the most dangerous thing in the room is an 11-year old girl. Surely your gun should be held in readiness for an attack from the door or window of the room, under the bed, or basically anywhere more likely than the head of a terrified pre-teen being handcuffed by one of your colleagues.
        Fuck it, you’re probably better pointing your gun at the crazy power-tripping bastard bullying the little girl.

      2. Live by the sword, die by it.  I’m not surprised that with the rise of hyperviolent police tactics like that that more cops are being killed in ambushes (shot through doors without warning, etc).  People probably figure they have nothing to lose now.

  7. DEA, you idiots! It’s shoot first, ask questions later. If you leave the witnes- uh, I mean criminals alive to tell the tale they might just go tell it to a judge, or the news. In any case it’s just too risky. Perhaps next time you should just blast the home in question, preferably from orbit (easier to claim that you thought you had the right house from that far away too.)

  8. What’s with the foul language?  Can’t the DEA search someone illegally without dropping the f bomb on children?

    1.  The use of screaming and profanity is intentional. It’s part of controlling the situation and intimidating the victims. It’s all part of the training. In the military’s eyes (and make no mistake..Police forces now train for urban assault alongside the military) even an 11-year-old is a potential enemy.

  9. Well, I’m glad we cleared that up. Terrifying young children by pointing loaded firearms at their heads has always been something of a moral gray area for me. Wrong? Right? It’s just so hard to decide. Props to the 9th Circuit for finally giving us some guidance on this difficult topic.

    1. Oh, come *on*. You can’t expect the police to do a good job if they are always having to follow stupid rules like not smashing down the door of the wrong house and not putting guns to the heads of eleven-year-olds. These are people *on the front line*. They don’t have time to actually do the right thing, just to act act act!

    1. Robert Pickton’s pig farm probably hasn’t seen much traffic lately after forensics left it alone. Nobody would suspect that place being used a SECOND time.

  10. Thank goodness we have the war on drugs.  Otherwise we’d have home invasions and kids having guns put to their heads by thugs in the middle of the night.

    1.  During fire drills in my Uni dorm, it was my job to ensure every bedroom was empty. I came across one student Very sound asleep, in a room where the bells were loud enough that I had to shout to hear myself. If you’re in the right phase, it takes a Lot to wake you.

    1. I think you’re on to something here . . . 
      Reading the excerpt of the court’s ruling, they cite 3 other cases as precedent; another 11 year old, a 9 year old and an infant, all having had guns held to their (tiny) heads.  

  11. This is fucking sick. All for drugs, really? 

    I believe that systematically invading homes with armed squads screaming obscenities causes far more harm than any syringe or bong could ever aspire to.

      1.  I wholeheartedly agree with your second sentence, but even if they had been in the right house, no shadow of a doubt,putting a firearm to a little girl’s head is still utterly inexcusable. 

  12. I can’t believe there hasn’t been an apologist for the DEA on here defending the rights of the righteous warriors (Heroes) against illegal drugs. 11 year olds are just future criminals anyway. Must be on the wrong web site. I need to go check out the Daily Caller or Red State, I guess. 

    1. Life’s too short for me to bother checking out those worthy blogs, but I’m sure over there they’re saying that this would have never happened if Bush were in office.

  13. The court didn’t rule that the actions were intentional infliction of emotional distress. It ruled that the case couldn’t be decided on a summary judgement motion, which the lower court had granted in favor of the DEA. This court said that the emotional distress and excessive force/assault and battery claims (for the savagery against the children, but not the adults) must be decided by a jury, since a reasonable jury could conclude that the DEA thugs did, indeed, do those things. It now goes back to the district court where a reasonable jury will hopefully find that the DEA agents are guilty of those things, and return  multi-million dollar damages for the Avinas.

    1. “It now goes back to the district court where a reasonable jury will hopefully find that the DEA agents are guilty of those things, and return  multi-million dollar damages for the Avinas.”

      And in this unlikely event, you ends up paying; chances the agents involved suffer more than momentary disruption of their routine?

  14. This is seriously disturbing.  The DEA made a mistake and treated innocent people like this?  Time for them to pay up, pain and suffering.  Those poor girls are going to have some serious post-traumatic stress going on.  Regardless of whether they are in the right house or not, it is inexcusable to treat unarmed people like this, whether they are 11 years old or over 18! 

    1.  Exactly, under no circumstances should anyone be treated in this manner. Citizens are innocent until proven guilty. If this was the correct address, then it still would have been criminal to treat people this way – no matter the age.
      What really gets me, what really grinds my grits… is that they defended their actions as justified.

  15. There is probably no more blatant wast of tax dollars than the DEA. Public safety would not change if this useless government agency were eliminated.

  16. This is a good reminder for people who say they dont have to worry about such things because they’re not doing anything illegal…   I’ll be curious to see what a jury decides…  At least no one was actually shot. I would go bonkers if someone knocked down my door and came after my kids. (had I any.)

  17. Hollywood, are you listening?!?!  “In a world where government agents run amok, one little girl said ENOUGH! After watching her family be slaughtered by thugs called the DEA, she grows up to become the 1%ers worst nightmare, Robyn Hood!”

      1. Could be Rubbin Hood. Or Bobbin Hood. Or Blowjobbin Hood. Knobbin Hood. Help…can’t stop.

  18. And just to be clear, the Ninth Circuit didn’t decide that putting a gun to the head of an 11-year-old was bad. They just decided that a jury should *have a chance to decide* if putting a gun to the head of an 11-year-old is bad. I’m glad that the law, in its majesty, will have a chance to impartially weigh that particular conundrum.

  19. The Drug Gestapo’s hysteric, paramilitary M.O. is nothing less than a form of state terrorism.

  20. This right here? This is why I don’t mind breaking laws. You can break no laws and things like this can happen to you. What, exactly is the incentive to be a law abiding citizen?

  21. Hey people, let’s go easy on these police officers, they were just upholding the law…

    It’s quite possible those parents and their innocent little girls might have REALLY had some pot stashed away somewhere in that house and were planning to smoke it. I think we can just rack this up to a one in a million drug bust mistake. I’m sure next time the cops will break down the door of the real evil doers and arrest the right little 11 year old girls, and we will ALL sleep better because of it.

    You just have to think it through.

    /sarcasm (for those who are too dense to get it).

  22. didn’t Jello Biafra have a song about that sort of thing, several decades ago?
    (and why do i find myself asking that same damn question so often, so many years later? )

  23. As Xof mentioned briefly above: The District Court granted summary judgment to the DEA, and the Court of appeals remanded (ie. sent the case back to the District Court) to examine the facts surrounding the IIED claim. I would refer you to wikipedia to learn more about grants of summary judgment, remanding, and the various levels of Federal Court. Basically, nothing really happened here other than the appeals court sent the case back to a lower of court to have a finder of fact (ie. jury) determine if an IIED claim is supported by pointing a gun at a little girl’s head etc. This is not the same thing as a precedential ruling from which other courts (whether in the 9th Circuit, or otherwise) must view as binding authority (although it may become that someday when it wends its way through the pipeline again). While it is my view that a jury would probably find that an IIED claim is supported by these facts; it is also my view that boingbiong would benefit from a lawyer type to fact check and offer some limited explanation before posting articles about court rulings / the law, as I often find them to be misleading.

  24. Hmmmm. Forget the courts. A very American  way to curb this behavior is to hit wallets and budgets.  The agents in question deserve a very hefty fine and/or quartering of  salary for each offense. The agency in question should get several million slashed from its budget each time.  Give all the money to the claimants. When it gets to the point that DEA and its minions can’t really run the circus…then we know all we need to know about these morons and a-holes.  Time for another approach altogether.

    Let the …uh…”free market”… do its work!!

  25. I would question if the drugs are worse.

    I mean the justification really is that maybe some tweeked out meth head is going to break into your place to rob you of some material items to sell to a pawn shop to get a couple more days of meth. Which provided that no one is home or gets hurt (not always the case I know), are just stuff that usually is insured anyway.


    Many due to a clerical error a military type raid of police that assault you and your children. Maybe they accidently shoot the occupents of the accidental raid, I have heard of that before also.

    Anyway I am wondering at what point is the “solution” worse than the actual problem?

    1. “Anyway I am wondering at what point is the “solution” worse than the actual problem?”
      We passed that point sometime in the 80’s when the CIA helped create the heavily-armed gangs in LA.

  26. Reading the decision, I came away with one thing. It’s OK for the DEA to bust in to the wrong house, force people down on the floor, and point guns at their heads as long as those people are adults.

    Wait… What?

    Yup, the problem seems to be that these were harmless children – nevermind that the DEA invaded a persons home without cause or valid warrant, made threats on the occupants lives, assaulted the occupants, and then defended their actions as acceptable.

  27. Hello. I am a Canadian. The “majority” Harper Government (Not my F***ing government) today passed their omnibus “budget” bill, Bill C-38. It will be law of the land by the end of the week. In it are provisions for DEA and FBI agents to operate on Canadian soil. I can’t properly express my anger in this forum.

    1. I’m sorry to say that no, you can’t properly express your anger in this forum. If you did, you could probably expect a visit from some large, unpleasant men in bad suits.

  28. I’m assuming that the family is Latino, and this disgusting behavior is the result of the cops not even recognizing the kids as kids.

    Do you think this would have happened if the 11-year-old girl were a beautiful little blond girl? No, because the DEA cops would have seen her and thought “innocent child” and not stuck a freeking gun to her head. But a Latino girl just shouts “drug-smuggling immigrant” to these pigs.

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