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Raid Of The Day: The Hay Family

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At about 6 am on the morning of March 8, 1985, 60 law enforcement officers staged a raid on the Point Arena, California ranch owned by Bill Hay and his wife Karen. Point Arena is in Mendocino County, due south of Humboldt County. The two counties, along with Trinity County, make up the "emerald triangle," the rugged, heavily-forested part of northern California that state and federal anti-drug agencies and the state's National Guard had been targeting through the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP.

When Hay answered the loud knock at the door, he told a local paper, a federal agent "threw some papers in my face . . . while he held a gun up nose." Hay's wife and son Robert were already awake, and also held at gunpoint. His son Richard was rousted from sleep with a gun pressed to his temple. Within minutes dozens of camouflage-clad narcotics cops from at least seven local, state, and federal police agencies fanned out over the Hays' 11,000 acre farm. The raid included 14 vehicles, two ambulances, two aircraft, and a "lunch wagon" -- in case the raiding cops worked up an appetite.

The raid was based on a tip from a confidential informant, who told police that the Hay ranch was the site of a massive underground drug warehouse, where they'd find stacks of marijuana bales and crates of cocaine, all packaged and ready for sale. After six hours of searching, they found nothing of the kind. The agent in charge then ordered a search of the Hay house. The drug cops ransacked the place, rifling through drawers and cabinets, apparently in the hope that Bill Hay was hiding an enormous drug storage facility in his sock drawer. They finally brought in drug dogs to sniff every inch of the Hay household. They found no contraband.

In all, the Hays were held at gunpoint for eight hours, during which they were not permitted to talk, eat or drink, change out of their bedclothes, or use the toilet. The Hays said several SWAT members mocked them as they ate lunch in front of them, and at one point, began simulating intercourse with a plastic deer lawn ornament on the family's front lawn. The warrant allowed the team to look not just for drugs, but for "paraphernalia" used to harvest and package illegal drugs. At one point, a narcotics officer demanded to know why Hay was in possession of a large supply of baling wire. Hay pointed out that he kept a thousand head of cattle, 900 sheep, and had a baler in the barn. He then pointed to his huge of supply of hay, stacked in bales.

Finally, the police flew their informant to the Hay ranch, where he told them they had raided the wrong property. The Hays would later learn that the informant -- described on the warrant as trustworthy and reliable -- had previously told police the ranch was in Sonoma County.

Three years later, the Hay family filed a law suit in state court. Judge John Golden ruled the trial that the search warrant was invalid. The jury found for the Hay family, and awarded them $8 million in damages. Some jurors wept. After the trial, jurors chipped in to buy roses for Karen Hay. The Ukiah Daily Journal reported that juror Hans Zwetshoot said the Hays' account of the raid reminded him of the stories his father told him about life in Nazi-occupied Holland.

Meanwhile, California Deputy State Attorney General Paul Hammerness called Judge Golden a "villain" for his ruling on the search warrant, and said the monetary award wasn't justified. When asked why it wasn't justified, he replied that "the Hays really weren't damaged."

(The "Raid of the Day" features accounts of police raids I've found, researched, and reported while writing my forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. It's due out in July, but you can pre-order it here.)

Sources: Peter Page, "Jury to state: Pay Hay family $8 million for mistaken raid," Ukiah Daily Journal, February 12, 1988; Peter Page, "Raid left ranch family cynical and depressed, doctor says," Ukiah Daily Journal, February 3, 1988; Peter Page, "Drug agents raid wrong ranch," Ukiah Daily Journal, March 10, 1985; "Family in raid wins $8 million," Associated Press, February 13, 1988.

Filed by Radley Balko