SWAT Team Raids Innocent Family Over Stolen AirPods Dropped on Their Street

St. Louis County Police have some explaining to do

Mar 25, 2024 at 7:05 am
“What the hell is going on?” said Brittany Shamily, upon seeing the SWAT team on her front lawn.
“What the hell is going on?” said Brittany Shamily, upon seeing the SWAT team on her front lawn. COURTESY BEVIS SCHOCK

A pair of AirPods and what lawyers say was some shoddy police work resulted in an innocent middle-class Ferguson family having their front door smashed in by the St. Louis County SWAT team last May.

Around 6:30 p.m. on May 26, Brittany Shamily was at home with her children, including an infant, when police used a battering ram to bust in her front door. “What the hell is going on?” she screamed, terrified for herself and her family. “I got a three-month-old baby!”

Body camera footage from the scene shows Shamily come to the front door, her hands up, her face a mix of fright and utter confusion at the heavily armed folly making its way from her front porch into her foyer. “Oh my god,” she says.

The SWAT team was looking for guns and other material related to a carjacking that had occurred that morning. Their search didn’t turn up any of that — though it has led to a lawsuit, filed Friday, that may lead to a better public understanding of how county police decide whether to deploy a SWAT team or serve a search warrant in a less menacing manner.

Because in this case, the police clearly made the wrong call.

The carjacking that led to the raid happened about 12 hours prior, 16 miles away, in south county.

Around 6 a.m., two brothers were leaving the Waffle House on Telegraph Road near Jefferson Barracks when a group of six people pulled up outside the restaurant and carjacked them. Two of the carjackers took off in the brothers' Dodge Charger while the other four fled the scene in their own vehicles.

St. Louis County Police were summoned to the scene. As part of their investigation, a friend of the carjacked brothers told police that his AirPods were in the stolen car and that he could track them using the “FindMy” application, a feature that lets users locate one Apple device using another.

Police did just that and, according to the lawsuit, the app showed the AirPods to be at Shamily’s house.

There was just one problem.

"FindMy is not that accurate," says the family’s lawyer, Bevis Schock. "I actually went to my house with my co-counsel and played around with it for an hour. It's just not that good."

Yet based on the “FindMy” result, an officer signed an application for a search warrant saying he had reason to believe that "firearms, ammunition, holsters" and other "firearm-related material" were inside.

That evening, police showed up in full combat gear carrying a battering ram.

Shamily's husband, Lindell Briscoe, was napping in his work truck in the driveway with two of the couple's other children when police showed up. They pointed their weapons at him, demanding he get out.

Inside the house, body camera footage shows one of the officers in full SWAT gear pick up the crying three-month-old and carry the baby outside. Shamily asked if she could sit down and was told no.

click to enlarge An officer carrying three-month-old baby after errant SWAT raid at Ferguson family's home.
An officer carrying three-month-old baby after errant SWAT raid at Ferguson family's home.

While the family was detained outside, the SWAT team "ransacked" their house, the lawsuit says. One SWAT team member punched a basketball-sized hole in the drywall. Another broke through a drop ceiling. They turned over drawers and left what had been an orderly house in disarray.

After this had gone on for more than half an hour, the AirPods were located — on the street outside the family's home.

It later came to light that one of Shamily and Briscoe’s daughters saw what was likely the stolen Charger careening through their neighborhood a little before 7 a.m. that day. (The vehicle later crashed on the 1700 block of Foley Drive, about six miles from the family’s home.) It stands to reason that someone in the Charger tossed a pair of stolen AirPods onto the street in the vicinity of the quiet house police later busted into and ransacked.

The family, represented by Schock and Erich Vieth, is suing for damages stemming from embarrassment, unreasonable use of force, loss of liberty, and other factors. The lawsuit notes that neither Shamily or Briscoe had been in any trouble with the law for at least a dozen years prior to the incident. "There was no probable cause for the search warrant and had the affidavit contained complete information, the state court judge would not have approved the warrant," the suit alleges.

Schock says the suit also gets at the bigger issue of the county police’s overuse of SWAT teams.

"The way they sort of attack is like a military operation, and we have to examine that as a society,” Schock says. “Is that what we want from our policemen?”

He adds, “There's real concern that the police are using SWAT teams on so many search warrants.”

click to enlarge Still from body cam footage of officers entering Ferguson home.
Still from body cam footage of officers entering Ferguson home.

The overwhelming force that SWAT teams employ is designed to ensure officer safety, which Schock acknowledges is important. But he says this needs to be balanced by people’s rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“We're not in Afghanistan or Gaza,” he says.

He hopes in the course of the lawsuit to better understand how county police decide when to deploy a SWAT team.

“They probably have some kind of analytic multifactor test and they will fight tooth and nail to have that test not be exposed,” Schock says.

The lawsuit alleges that police should have known right away that Shamily and Briscoe's house and the people inside it posed no risk to officer safety.

“An reasonable officer would have promptly known that it was an innocent family’s home and not the sort of place inhabited by drug-crazed criminals,” the suit says.

The day after the errant raid, Briscoe emailed one of the detectives inquiring about the department repairing his broken door. The detective agreed the county would fix it for them

A few months later, the door still busted, the family’s landlord fixed it instead.

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