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Narcotics Strike Force Re-examines "Knock and Talk" Policy

Narcotics Strike Force Re-examines "Knock and Talk" Policy



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FRUIT HEIGHTS, Utah (AP) -- Davis Metro Narcotics Strike Force officials say they will reconsider some of their tactics following complaints about recent "knock and talk" searches at motels.

Morley R. Sprague, owner of Mountain Creek Inn said plainclothes officers arrived at his business at 10 p.m. Jan. 21 and knocked on every door. Once inside the rooms, officers searched them.

Officials said not every room was visited and future searches may not be conducted so late.

Manager Julie Duren said she felt intimidated by the number of officers who crowded into her office, wanting to see the guest register and asking questions.

Some of the motel's guests are families who are between homes, construction workers who are living in the area for a short time and a single man who prefers someone else to do his cleaning, Sprague said.

The knock-and-talk depends on voluntary cooperation of the residents. If they do not agree to allow police inside, officers are supposed to leave.

Sprague said several guests told him they were intimidated and frightened and two have left the motel because the searches, which resulted in one person being cited for having drug paraphernalia.

Cheryl Martinez, her husband and her son have lived at Mountain Creek Inn since May.

When the knocks came at 10 p.m., she opened the door and saw four or five officers. One said he had heard there were drugs in the area and would like to talk to her about it, she said.

When they came in, the officers asked if they could search the rooms, Martinez said.

"They went through everything," she said. "It was uncomfortable. I didn't like it. They really had no reason to come here."

Other Davis County motels targeted that night were the La Quinta Inn and Comfort Inn in Layton, Super 8 Motel in Clearfield and Motel 6, Hampton Inn and Comfort Inn in Woods Cross.

Layton Police Lt. Allen Swanson, public information officer for the strike force, said he understands Sprague's complaint because of the time of night the search occurred.

Deputy Davis County Deputy Attorney Rick Westmoreland said Sprague filed has a complaint with his office and he has talked to officers involved.

"My understanding is they did not go to every motel room (at Mountain Creek Inn), but they did go to more rooms than they did in other motels," he said.

Westmoreland and Swanson said they have since reviewed what happened and plan to handle future knock-and-talks differently.

"We're going to do things better, and we're not going to do them that late," Swanson said.

Margaret Plane, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, said her office has received a complaint about the Mountain Creek Inn searches.

"We have to look into the facts and talk to the people," Plane said. "(But) knocks-and-talks are constitutionally suspect. They have clearly been litigated a lot."

The Fourth Amendment gives people "a reasonable expectation of privacy" in their homes, apartments or motel rooms, she said.

Plane said the consent in knock-and-talks is suspect because of the intimidation. Courts look at the times the knock-and-talks occur and how many officers approach each door.

"These tools need to be used very carefully," Plane said. "To say drugs are in the area.... That's not enough."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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