Rickia Russell wins $1 million police brutality settlement after burns from flashbang grenade

Categories: Law, Police
flashbang damage.jpg
The flash-bang grenade caused third-degree burns to Rickia Russell's calf.
At around 8:30 p.m., two days after Valentine's last year, Rickia Russell was at her boyfriend's home. It was a week after her birthday, and they were settled in for the night with a friend. They drank vodka and dug into a steaming pot of jambalaya.

The apartment, at 5753 Sanders Drive in south Minneapolis, wasn't exactly a luxury building. Drug dealers used the lobby as their office. So when Russell heard footsteps pounding down the hallway, she didn't think much of it.

Suddenly, she heard a loud boom. The front door of the apartment swung open. Cops holding a battering ram stood in the gap. An officer in a helmet, goggles, and riot gear stood at the threshold. He looked right at her and, with an underhanded toss, lobbed a flash-bang grenade.
"Something's wrong," Rickia Russell said. "It feels like my legs are on fire. My legs are burning."

An explosion ripped through the apartment. Smoke filled the air. The back of Russell's legs felt hot and wet.

"Get on the ground!" an officer commanded.

Russell lay flat as more than a dozen cops flooded the room. One of the officers tied Russell's arms behind her with plastic cuffs.

"Something's wrong," Russell said. "It feels like my legs are on fire. My legs are burning."

A cop came over and shined a light on the back of Russell's legs.

"Oh, fuck," he said. "We have a problem. Someone call an ambulance."
Doctors had to use flesh from Rickia Russell's scalp for the skin graft for her calves.

Doctors immediately placed Russell in Hennepin County Medical Center's burn unit. They flushed her bloodied legs with saline to remove shards of the grenade. Both her calves had been eaten by third-degree burns from the flash-bang, which burns at 3,800 to 4,200 degrees.

The Minneapolis City Council agreed Friday to pay Russell $1 million in damages for the trauma inflicted by the city's cops and the errant flash-bang grenade.

"Using a flash-bang grenade with a knock warrant is nuts," says Bob Bennett, Russell's attorney. "What's the purpose of throwing a flash grenade when you're supposed to knock?"

Minneapolis police serve approximately 275 warrants (knock and searches) per year. The warrants don't give cops carte blanche to just barge in without warning. Most require cops to knock at the door, announce their presence, and wait a reasonable time before entering.

In order for cops to skip the knock-and-announce step, a judge must approve a special, no-knock warrant. To get one, cops have to show that there are special circumstances that cause imminent danger to officers, things like drugs and weapons. But in many cases, Minneapolis police barge in without knocking anyway.

"If they don't have a no-knock [warrant], they'll say they knocked, and they'll break down the door in two seconds," says Barry Voss, a criminal defense attorney.

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