Elected Canadian County officials fight lawsuit over raid

Commissioners, sheriff ask judge to dismiss claims; hearing Jan. 19

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By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

Canadian County elected officials are fighting a lawsuit filed on behalf of a man who claims sheriff’s deputies illegally raided his home.

Judge Khristan K. Strubhar

An attorney for Canadian County Sheriff Chris West and Canadian County Commissioners on Nov. 18 filed a motion to dismiss in Canadian County District Court. A hearing is set Jan. 19, 2023, before Judge Khristan K. Strubhar.

Both defendants are asking the judge “to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims against them with prejudice … for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” according to a brief signed by attorney Stephen L. Geries.

“Defendants are immune from suit for all of plaintiff’s claims pursuant to the terms of the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act.”

Brandon Michael Whitman is suing Canadian County’s elected sheriff and commissioners for infliction of emotional distress, negligence that led to physical and emotional injuries and loss of his electronic equipment.

The civil action stems from a January incident at a house on Sunway Street in eastern Canadian County.

Sheriff’s deputies raided the home after the plaintiff’s Facebook account was hacked and child pornography images were posted to the account, according to the suit filed Oct. 3 by attorney Doug Carel.

Although the hack issue had been resolved in August 2021 after being reported to Oklahoma City Police, the plaintiff alleges “numerous” Canadian County sheriff’s deputies on Jan. 12 walked down his street with brandished firearms, circling his property and frightening his neighbors.

“(I)n front of plaintiff’s wife and minor daughter, Canadian County Sheriff deputies burst into the plaintiff’s home, detained plaintiff and his family and removed every computer and electronic item contained in plaintiff’s home,” according to the lawsuit petition.

In the suit, Whitman claims he tried to explain to the armed sheriff’s deputies that his Facebook account had been hacked. The plaintiff alleges he was treated rudely and was ordered to remain seated while his personal property was removed from the home.

“The plaintiff uses his computers for work,” the suit reads. “Despite his repeated pleas for the return of his personal property, he was ignored by West for several weeks.”

The personal property was returned to Whitman on Feb. 10, 2022. He was never arrested or charged with a crime.

Sheriff Chris West

In the court-filed document, attorney Carel argues the “slightest bit of police work” done by West and his deputies would have revealed Whitman “had nothing to do” with the child pornography posted to his social media account.

The plaintiff is seeking a judgment against each defendant of $175,000 for negligent infliction of emotional distress, $175,000 for negligence and $10,000 for conversion; along with attorney’s fees and court costs.

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‘DEVOID OF FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS’

Canadian County Commissioners should be dismissed from this suit under state law because the plaintiff’s petition “is devoid of any factual allegations implicating” them, according to the motion to dismiss.

Negligent infliction of emotional distress is not an independent tort recognized under Oklahoma state law, the defendants’ attorney argues.

The petition is “devoid of any allegation of fact” indicating that Whitman suffered any physical injuries that resulted from any conduct by Sheriff West or any other agent, employee or officer of the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office,” the motion reads.

Sheriff West and Canadian County Commissioners contend Whitman cannot demonstrate they “breached any legal duty owed to him with regard to the purported ‘raid’ of his property.”

That’s because the search of his home and seizure of his electronic equipment were conducted pursuant to a search warrant authorized Jan. 10 by Canadian County Special Judge Charles Gass.

The Canadian County Sheriff’s Office had received information indicating that images of child pornography had been downloaded at the IP address at the plaintiff’s residence, according to a search warrant affidavit signed by investigator David Cates.

This reportedly gave the sheriff’s office probable cause to believe that images of child pornography may have been stored on digital devices at the home – whether or not the plaintiff was involved.

Whitman’s electronic equipment was returned to him after the property had been examined and the investigation concluded, according to the defendants’ brief.

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