Amarillo officers deny claims in civil rights lawsuit

Amarillo officers deny claims in civil rights lawsuit. (ABC 7 Amarillo)

Three Amarillo officers are facing a lawsuit from the parents of a young girl who drowned in T-Anchor Lake behind the La Kiva Hotel last summer. New court documents obtained by ABC 7 News, show that Amarillo Police Department’s Lieutenant Scott Chappell, one defendant in the case, has requested that the claim be dismissed or for the plaintiffs, Michael Wartena and Michael Tiffany Stewart, to provide more sufficient facts to establish their claims.

Sergeant Thomas Callahan and Sergeant Chris Sheffield, defendants, also denied allegations in their original response to the complaint.

In the original complaint, it stated, “this case arises out of the wrongful custodial, illegal and prolonged detention and property seizures” of the parents, which is also stated to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In turn, Chappell said the Wartenas were in fact separated and interrogated while the search continued for their missing daughter, Alexis. Also he said, Child Protective Services was called to supervise the Wartena’s other children during this time. He explained in the documents, that officers were told by a CPS-affiliated therapist that one of Wartena’s children stated their parents removed Alexis from the hotel room and returned without her.

The Wartenas mentioned in their lawsuit that all of the door locks in the hotel room were broken, and “Alexis’ mom, Michael Tiffany Stewart, was in the bathroom of the hotel room and Alexis’ dad, Michael Wartena, was resting half asleep on the bed, Alexis left the room without her parents’ knowledge.” The documents also noted that “they barricaded the hotel room door with their luggage,” once hotel maintenance didn’t fix their locks or move them to a different room.

The Wartenas also accused the officers of not obtaining a warrant and had no probable cause to arrest them, but did detain them by seizing all of their personal belongings and their vehicle. They said the officers violated their “rights to be free from unreasonable seizure of their person when they were taken into custody.”

Chappell maintained, the Wartenas “twice executed written consent forms to search their hotel room and their car, and so any claim for a warrantless search is entirely futile.”

Chappell stated, “an Officer may temporarily detain a person for an investigation without probable cause to arrest if the Officer has reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity may be afoot, and such a detention does not violate the Fourth Amendment.”

A judge has ordered that the Wartenas have until October 19 to respond to Chappell’s motion to dismiss or in the alternative, for a rule 7 reply and motion to stay discovery.

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