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SARASOTA COUNTY -- Officers on a SWAT team said they waited six seconds for a suspected drug dealer to answer their knock before forcibly entering the house to execute a search warrant.
But the Florida Second District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday that the officers didn't wait long enough for Searn Simmons to answer their knock before entering to find marijuana and a handgun.
The court of appeals threw out Simmons' drug and weapons convictions stemming from the search, saying the SWAT team's 2003 search violated a state law on no-knock entries.
Officers must announce their authority and purpose, and be refused entry, before they can forcibly enter a home to execute a search warrant, the court ruled.
"While there was some discrepancy in the officers' testimony regarding whether they knocked on Simmons' door before breaking it down, the officers' testimony is clear that if they did knock, they did not wait a sufficient amount of time to allow Simmons to respond," the court ruled.
The state argued officers were justified in entering the house since they felt they were in danger.
They had reason to believe Simmons would be armed with a firearm because he had a history involving violent crimes, other members of the drug ring they were investigating carried guns and men who saw the SWAT team approaching could have called and warned Simmons, the state argued.
But the court said Simmons' three arrests listed on search warrant documents by officers included two where he was not charged and one charge from 1988. Also, a detective said he never saw Simmons with a weapon or acting violent during his surveillance.
Judge Craig Villanti, in a special concurring opinion, said that the reversal of the conviction should not reflect poorly on the SWAT team members.
"The time frame separating a 'good' knock-and-announce case from a 'bad' one, as this case demonstrates, can be as little as a few seconds," Villanti wrote.
Most of the bad cases say insufficient officer safety grounds existed to excuse the knock-and-announce notice, and this case was flawed because the supervisor relied on incorrect information, the court said.
"The supervisor directing the execution of the warrant must have almost swami-like powers to get it right, and the supervisor's decision is only as good as the information he is provided," Villanti wrote.
Simmons, 36, lived in Bradenton for many years and has been arrested in Manatee County for crimes that include sale of cocaine, possession of marijuana, carrying a concealed weapon and resisting arrest.
He remains in the Hamilton Work Camp state prison on a 2001 marijuana sale charge from Manatee County.