Before sunrise ON February 13, 2006, James Giese was woken by the sound of a battering ram smashing through his SE Cora front door.
"At first, I thought the house was on fire, that the fire people were coming to get us out," he says. "I didn't know what was going on."
Giese ran downstairs wrapped only in a sheet, and found 10 well-armed cops from the Portland Police Bureau's Drugs and Vice Unit in his living room. A few officers forced Giese to the floor, while five more cops ran upstairs and shoved his wife, Trina, to the ground—ignoring her protests about being five months pregnant, the Gieses say.
"They were all huge, like 6' 5" and 250 pounds, and just so amped up," says Trina, still upset when she recalls the incident. "And I kept telling them, 'I'm pregnant,' but they put me on the ground anyway."
The Gieses were then handcuffed and planted on their living room couch while the cops searched the house for a marijuana grow operation.
But the cops didn't find any pot.
Now, a year later, the family is still furious at the Portland Police Bureau, asking whether an armed unit from its Drugs and Vice Division really had good reason to break into their home.
The police certainly believed they had enough reason to break down the Gieses' door. Detective Daryl Turner, who filed for a search warrant, had followed James home from Portland Community College on January 10. That day, James gave a 19-year-old classmate—the two were studying to be mechanics—a ride home. Cops had found a single marijuana plant at the classmate's house a few weeks earlier, and were now turning their attention to Giese.
According to Turner's search warrant, the Gieses' electricity bill was theoretically large enough to support a grow operation. And when an officer walked up to the door of the house on February 7, she smelled the "distinctive moderate pungent odor" of marijuana, according to the warrant.
Inside the Gieses' house on February 13, however, the only thing the cops found was the Gieses' 12-year-old foster daughter, Alex.
"We'd been having these monthly state foster home checks to make sure our house was a fit environment for a foster child," says James. "So it's a shame the cops didn't check with the state people first" about their marijuana suspicions.
"You could just tell that [Turner had] totally fucked up," says James, who demanded an apology from the detective (which the Gieses say they don't recall receiving) and asked him to explain to their foster daughter that they had done nothing wrong—which Turner did. The cops left a business card for a firm that could repair the home's structural damage.
The Gieses say the cops' case for storming their house was completely unfounded. "What did [they] have to go on in the first place?" James asks. "Honestly, I think it was total laziness and bad police work."
When an officer allegedly smelled marijuana at their home on February 7, she didn't bother to knock on the door and ask to look around, the Gieses say.
"If she'd smelled the odor, why wouldn't they knock on the door and verify that it is coming from our house?" asks Trina. The officer's report, however, says that she did knock on the door of the house at 9 am that day, but only the couple's three dogs responded.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Portland General Electric (PGE) tells the Mercury that the Gieses' electricity usage since they purchased the home in 2005 was "well within the average for the last few years at that location." PGE's average included data since 2002.
The Gieses consulted two lawyers about their case but were told they would have to hire a smell expert at a cost of $5,000 in order to go through with suing. Instead, they decided to focus on raising their newborn baby, Alice. They have not filed a complaint with the city's Independent Police Review, but say they still can't get over their anger at what happened.
Detective Turner did not return the Mercury's call for comment. (Turner has written in the Portland Police Association union newsletter, Rap Sheet, that union members "should be unified in not talking to the media.")
"Clearly, the officers were able to develop probable cause for a judge to sign the warrant, and there is nothing in the reports to suggest any dishonesty or attempts to be devious," says police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz. "But probable cause does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt."
"It is fair to ask how the officers did their job, were they fair and impartial and truthful in their work?" Schmautz continues. "But what is always much more difficult in cases like these is how people feel."
"I just feel sick," James responds. "Sick to my stomach."