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Cops Impersonate Child Protectors
November 13, 2009 permalink
Florida police know that child protectors have more powers than they do. So they impersonated child protection workers to gain access to the home of Matthew Kennedy and Kristen Stoltzfus.
Deputies' ruse fails to hold up in court
SEARCH RULING: Police can't use child welfare inquiry as a trick to enter a home
By Todd Ruger, Published: Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 1:00 a.m., Last Modified: Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 12:04 a.m.
SARASOTA COUNTY - Two detectives suspected a couple were growing marijuana in a home, but there was not enough evidence to get a search warrant.
So they came up with another plan after learning the couple had a child.
The Sarasota County sheriff's detectives went to the home and claimed to be with the Florida Department of Children and Families, and said they wanted to go into home to check out an anonymous tip about their child's safety.
The couple let the detectives in, and eventually they found 36 marijuana plants and drug paraphernalia.
But a judge who heard about the ruse last week threw out of court all the evidence the deputies found inside Matthew Kennedy's home.
The felony cultivation of cannabis charge against Kennedy, 29, is still pending, but the ruling cripples the case and underscores how the law protects homes from warrantless police searches.
Prosecutors argued that Kennedy gave consent to the deputies to search his home, and even had the deputies wait outside for five minutes so he could "tidy up" his home in the 3200 block of Williamsburg Street.
Law enforcement officers are allowed to use some deception to get a homeowner to agree to a search of their home. But without a warrant, the state must show that any search was based on the homeowner's voluntary consent to the search.
Circuit Judge Deno Economou ruled that the deputies told Kennedy they had the legal authority to enter his home, so Kennedy was not in a position to voluntarily consent.
Pretending to be from DCF takes deception to a whole new level because it preys on a parent's worst fear of having their child taken from them, defense attorney Liane McCurry said.
"Is there any greater issue?" McCurry said. "To use that is horrifying."
In July, the deputies told Matthew Kennedy and Kristen Stoltzfus that they were there for DCF to check on an anonymous tip about a 12-year-old child living in unfit conditions, court records state.
But there was never a tip about that, and at no time were they acting with DCF. The couple have only a 9-year-old daughter, and they said she was at a friend's house.
Kennedy asked them to wait before coming in so he could put the family dog in a contained area, McCurry said in court records.
Once inside the house, the detectives could immediately smell an odor consistent with a marijuana grow operation, noting a stronger smell in the kitchen.
The detectives eventually got a search warrant and later found the marijuana plants.
Source: Sarasota Herald Tribune