DAMASCUS, MD — Police performed a violent raid on a birthday party based on a suspicion of ‘young looking people with beer,’ then dubiously confiscated guests’ cell phones when they were used to record the police.
The incident occurred on January 4th, 2014, at the home of George and Cathy Magas. The couple’s son, Nicholas, was turning twenty-one years old, and he was allowed to invite a number of his friends to the home for a party. Both his parents were present.
During the party, the crowd opted to order pizza. Things went downhill when the delivery driver took it upon himself to pass a tip about the party to a friend — Officer Finch of the Montgomery County Police Department.
“Hey man not sure if you’re working but if you’re not busy there I just delivered a pizza to a party at 9*** Damascus rd and saw some young looking people with beer,” the pizza-delivering snitch wrote in a text message.
Officer Finch then relayed the information to members of the county’s “Alcohol Initiatives Section” to investigate. Subsequently, MCPD Officer Jeremy Smalley and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputy John Durham arrived together to scope out the party.
Having no other information besides the text message tip, the two beverage cops drove past the residence and “observed numerous vehicles” and could “hear the sounds of a party,” according to charging documents. They claimed to witness some males urinate behind a detached garage. Having no evidence to stand on, the officers assumed that the party contained underage drinking and called for reinforcements.
THE PROBLEM WITH ASSUMING
The investigation was flimsy from the start. Officer Smalley and Deputy Durham made multiple unsubstantiated assumptions and fabrications of fact. Just by observing individuals carrying “red Solo style cups,” they surmised that the party-goers (1) were consuming alcohol and (2) “appeared to be under the age of 21.”
These assumptions were used as probable cause that a crime was being committed — underage consumption of alcohol.
The police were challenged on their remarkable ability to verify the ages of the guests just by looking at them. This was not an insignificant detail, because anyone above the age of 21 would not have been breaking any laws.
When asked how he could tell the difference between a 20-year-old and a 21-year-old, Deputy Durham later testified, “The loudness, just the way they presented themselves, was consistent with being under 21… They kind of exaggerate their movements, like ‘hey look at me’… rather than adults standing around drinking.” Durham conceded that “It’s not 100 percent.”
DISPERSING THE PARTY
Filled with assumptions, Officer Smalley and Deputy Durham approached the basement stairwell and were met by one of the younger residents of the home, Marc Magas. According to the police report, Marc was “very cooperative” and inclined to grant them access to the inside of the home. However, that idea was nixed when his mother, Cathy Magas, allegedly said, “We have dealt with you guys before, and I don’t want you coming in the house.”
At that point, police were close enough to see cases of beer and a keg. Despite having no verified proof of anyone’s age, police entered and began to pick up cases of beer and haul them to the top of the steps outside the home. This confiscation of property was met with angry shouts from homeowner George Magas. Backup units had arrived and helped to seize the beverages.
According to the police report, 21-year-old Nicholas Magas exited the basement door and attempted to retrieve his property by picking up a case of beer. The report says that Officer Smalley grabbed him, but Nicholas “attempted to pull away.”
The events that followed were chaotic and have been described through conflicting reports.
Police reported that Officer Smalley was “pulled” into the doorway and residents slammed his arms in the door. A struggle ensued, and police alleged that homeowner George Magas assaulted three officers, and that he even tried to take Deputy Durham’s weapon from its holster. Eric Magas became involved, and police claimed that he too assaulted an officer.
“Deputy Durham then struck Eric Magas in an attempt to change his behavior,” the report states. Eric was tased by police on the steps. Cathy Magas attempted to render aid to her son, and in doing so, police claimed she elbowed a deputy.
Meanwhile, George Magas was outside being forcefully subdued by police with tasers, as his guests filmed with their cell phone cameras.
The footage “shows police dragging the homeowner out of his house, handcuffing him and repeatedly tasing him while he offers little to no resistance,” according to Montgomery County Sentinel editorialist Brian Karem, who was allowed to see the video.
George, Cathy, Nicholas, and Eric Magas were arrested. George and Eric had to be transported to the hospital for their injuries.
Some time after the Magas family was arrested, there were reportedly a number of guests still inside the house, which the “Alcohol Initiatives Section” intended to search and arrest.
Police deployed a battering ram and broke down the basement door, then rounded up the remaining terrified guests, ranging in age from 18 to 21.
Records showed that the police did obtain a search warrant to enter the home. However, it was not obtained until 5 hours after the initial contact with the Magas family, and did not bear any mention to the multiple assaults that the police officers had supposedly sustained in the course of the initial arrests.
According to the officers, their stated goal this dramatic use of force was to “stop the party and make sure everyone gets home safely.”
The four family members were nailed with a multitude of charges which could have resulted prison time for each of them.
- George Magas, 55, was charged with attempting to remove a firearm from the possession of a deputy sheriff, attempting to incite a riot, three counts of second degree assault, obstructing and hindering a police officer, and 22 counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor.
- Cathy Magas was charged with second degree assault, obstructing and hindering a police officer and 22 counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor.
- Nicholas Magas, 21, was charged with attempting to incite a riot, obstructing and hindering a police officer, and 22 counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor.
- Eric Magas, 18, was charged with second degree assault, attempting to incite a riot, obstructing and hindering a police officer, 22 counts of furnishing alcohol a minor, possession of a fake ID, possessing more than one driver’s license, knowingly and fraudulently obtaining a license by misrepresentation, and three counts of possessing a fictitious license.
An additional twenty-two adults were cited for underage consumption of alcohol, despite evidence that some of those cited did not even have anything to drink. Several guests had their cell phones confiscated after videoing the police getting physical with members of the Magas family.
“I don’t know why the police acted in the manner in which they did, including taking the phones of those who were in the home,” family attorney Rene Sandler told The Montgomery County Sentinel.
After having their family name dragged through the mud and forced to hire attorneys to defend themselves, the Magas family caught a break when their case came before Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Steven Salant. The Magas family contested that their Fourth Amendment rights had been violated, and that police had no lawful justification to be on their curtilage, snooping around in the rear of the house. The judge agreed.
“I do find an unlawful invasion of the defendants’ property… the defendants were entitled to an expectation of privacy in the area officers went in the back of the house,” Judge Salant said following a suppression hearing. He cast doubts on the officers’ probable cause statement and called some of the police testimony “not true.”
Judge Salant was incredulous that the raid was performed legally. The search warrant wasn’t obtained until five hours after police arrived on scene, and left out key details which the police later used as the basis of criminal charges against the family. Critics have doubted that the warrant was obtained prior to entering the home.
In November 2014, Judge Salant threw out most of the prosecution’s evidence obtained during the raid — including several guests’ cell phones — and said the police had violated the Magus’s civil rights.
As of late 2014, the state was still considering “a myriad of options, including appeal,” according to Maryland state’s attorney’s office spokesperson Ramon Korionoff.
Officer Jeremy Smalley, nor Deputy John Durham, nor any other officer who participated in the sloppy investigation and dubious search have received any form of public discipline or legal consequences as of this writing.