Less than a week after a tiny Pennsylvania borough announced the hiring of five new police officers to keep the community “safe,”, a group of at least seven officers barged into a woman’s home uninvited, kicking down a bedroom door before handcuffing her, then rummaging through her personal items, all because they were looking for her landlady – whom hadn’t lived there for years.
Robyn Ruckman managed to capture the first 2:31 minutes of Wednesday’s incident on video, but Turtle Creek police turned the camera off after discovering it.
But the little that she did capture on camera reveals a highly unprofessional group of police officers who don’t appear qualified for their job.
The officers said they had an arrest warrant for Roben Edwards, owner of the property where Ruckman has lived for two-and-a-half years.
Ruckman believes the warrant was for delinquent property taxes because she has received mail addressed to Edwards sent from the Turtle Creek Tax Collector.
But Ruckman had already told the cops that Edwards, in fact, lives down the street in this one-square mile borough of just over 5,000 people outside of Pittsburgh.
“I started talking to them from my second-floor window,” she said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime friday.
“They kept asking me if I was Roben Edwards and I said ‘no, she does not live here, I live here alone but she is my landlady and lives down that way.’
They told Ruckman they wanted to talk to Edwards about the length of her grass, which, she admits, needs cutting.
They had also rummaged through her mailbox and found mail addressed to Edwards as well as mail addressed to Ruckman.
But when they asked for her name, she replied with “citizen” and “resident” because “I didn’t feel I had to tell them my name.”
“They said, ‘come down here and show us your ID,’” she said. “One cop said if I didn’t come down there in 30 seconds, he would bust the door down.”
So she frantically put on some clothes, brushed her hair and grabbed a video camera before making her way downstairs and setting it up to record on the stairs.
“I didn’t even know where my ID was but I didn’t want him to break the door down,” she explained.
At the door, she told the cops her real name, but that wasn’t enough. They still insisted on seeing her identification.
“You know, I don’t even see a name tag on you,” Ruckman tells the officer after opening the door, which can be heard in the above video.
“I don’t give a shit what you see, go get your ID. You see, that says, ‘police,’” he says, pointing at his sleeve.
Ruckman walks upstairs to retrieve her identification with several officers following behind.
“They were like a pack of wolves,” she said in the interview. “They kept yelling at me, giving me different orders.”
“It was very hostile, very aggressive, very intimidating.
I backed up into my bedroom and closed the door.”
That prompted one of the cops to kick the door down.
“There were three cops in my bedroom and I didn’t even know where my ID was,” she said. “I was nervous and shaking. I didn’t remember that I had left my wallet downstairs.”
” He told me in the bedroom when the camera was off that he was me as a threat, that he thought I was going to go get a gun.”
The cops handcuffed her, which is how she remained for more ten minutes before they finally found her identification and realized they had the wrong woman.
“Roben Edwards is in the hospital,” Ruckman said. “She is not doing well.”
Edwards is also in her 50s and short in stature. Ruckman is 41 and measures 5’10″.
Now the question remains, did police have the right to enter her house with only an arrest warrant?
Case law states that police can only enter a home if they have a reasonable suspicion that the suspect is inside.
They could probably argue that because records show she owns the property and because they found mail addressed to her, that they had a reasonable suspicion that Edwards was inside.
However, this is a tiny borough, so it wouldn’t have taken long to determine that Edwards has been renting the house to another person for at least two years.
The other question is, did police have the right to turn off her camera? Wouldn’t it serve to protect them in case she made false allegations against them?
The Department of Justice states that citizens have the right to record police in public, so why shouldn’t that right extend to one’s home?
Besides, is it normal for police to show up in force when citizens fall behind in their taxes, if that is the case here?
We don’t know what actions Turtle Creek officials took to resolve the issue that led up to this incident.
But we do know they had just hired five new part-time officers, two new cruisers and three new Tasers, according to their Facebook page. Most likely from the money of residents that did pay their taxes.