On Saturday, October 2, 2010, the Sialoi family held a barbecue in front of their apartment to celebrate the seventh birthday of a family member. (The lawsuit does not indicate in which San Diego neighborhood the incident took place.)
No alcohol was served. Around 10:20 p.m. the apartment manager called 911 and reported that two black or Samoan men were ducking around the apartment complex. One carried a handgun and the other a shotgun, according to the report.
Before long, more than 20 San Diego police were on the scene, many with arms drawn. But the two black men were nowhere to be found.
One of the teenagers was holding a plastic paintball gun in his hand. When he saw the officers, he dropped it. A policeman confirmed the gun was a toy. But the other policemen handcuffed three teenagers and herded them into a police car. Then the officers began to detain, search, and handcuff members of the Sialoi family.
Several officers entered and searched the Sialois' apartment without a warrant or consent. The family sued the City of San Diego and the police officers individually. The district court gave the city qualified immunity but denied it to the officers. The officers appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth District considered the appeal, taking the facts "in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs."
The appellate panel, in a decision filed May 24, said the police were not entitled to summary judgment. Once the police found that the gun was a toy, they should not have handcuffed family members and shoved them to the ground or into a police vehicle, ruled the panel.
The officers "acted wholly unreasonably in using extreme force to disrupt a peaceful birthday party for a seven-year-old girl," said the appellate court. Furthermore, "No reasonable officer would have thought it lawful to search the Sialois' apartment," said the appellate panel, affirming the trial court's decision.