The daughter of a man who was killed by Baldwin County law enforcement officers during the process of an eviction order in 2018 has filed a federal lawsuit, alleging constitutional violations, negligence, excessive force and deliberate indifference to her father’s safety and medical needs, among other counts.
Naming as defendants Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack and several individual deputies and members of the Baldwin County Major Crimes Unit, the complaint recalls the period leading up to 65-year-old Robert Yates being forcibly evicted from the Key Largo Villas mobile home park south of Fairhope on March 5, 2018.
The lawsuit was filed by Aimee Yates, Robert’s daughter and personal representative of his estate.
According to the complaint, Yates rented a lot at the park for years, where he lived in a mobile home he owned. Having been clinically diagnosed with depression, the complaint said Yates “was pushed to be progressively more reclusive” after repeated negative confrontations with the landlord. Allegedly, Yates threatened a class-action lawsuit against the landlord on behalf of all tenants, and the landlord responded by seeking to evict Yates.
The eviction, it claims, was “based upon false allegations that Yates was in breach of his lease agreement” when, in fact, “Yates was never asked to sign a lease agreement or contract, but paid his rent every month and had never missed a payment.”
In June 2017, District Court Judge William Scully entered a default judgment against Yates when he did not appear in court, and the following February, “entered an alias writ of possession to restore [the landlord’s] possession of the land and tenements.”
The order stated the sheriff’s office was to “stand by to ensure no breach of peace if the [landlord] decides to remove the mobile home at that time.”
At about 1:30 p.m. on March 5, the landlord and his son — Don and Tim DeBourge — stood on Yates’ stoop alongside deputies Robert Correa and Greg Smith, before the property owners broke Yates’ door open with a sledgehammer. At that point, one deputy entered, announcing, “this is the sheriff’s office,” while the other walked around to secure the back side of the trailer.
It was then, the complaint claims, Yates hid in his bathroom, grabbed a gun and fired “a warning shot,” which prompted both deputies to take cover behind a truck in the yard and fire weapons into Yates’ home while calling for backup.
“When the SWAT team arrived, they came with their military style vehicles, incendiaries and weaponry, and cleared the local area of all residents surrounding Yates’ home,” it says.
Allegedly, one of the SWAT team members was deputy Justin Correa, the son of Robert Correa. Suggesting the plaintiff has seen some evidence subsequently provided by investigators, the complaint claims Robert Correa warned his son about getting involved due to a potential conflict of interest, but the younger deputy said he was “gonna go in and kill this f*cker if I have to.”
For the next five hours, the complaint says, “the SWAT team tore his windows and walls apart with their armored BearCat vehicle and used tear gas, concussion grenades and/or flash bangs” on Yates for more than two hours.
Allegedly, Yates never retaliated against the show of force and there was a “strong possibility he lay hidden, injured or dying and in need of emergency medical attention” during the standoff. The complaint states that negotiators “never attempted to contact members of the Yates family to try and de-escalate the situation before anyone was hurt.”
When Aimee Yates learned about the situation and attempted to call her father around 6 p.m., a negotiator answered and said the line had been intercepted. Aimee told the negotiator her father had a history of mental illness and suggested he “would only trust and speak to herself or her sisters,” but the negotiator refused the request and asked what guns her father owned.
“By this time, defendants were dead-set on killing Yates and at or about 6:30 p.m., the decision was made to breach the Yates residence with all of the SWAT team’s firepower, although the situation was not an exigent one, nor was there an emergency, nor had Yates threatened anyone’s life since firing a warning shot inside his home,” it reads. “Based on bullet holes in Yates’ home and shell casings found outside the residence, SWAT team members shot the home up with their military style weapons without probable cause, as Yates had been silent for several hours. There were more than 114 shells/bullet casings, along with tear gas canisters and concussion grenades left at the scene.”
Justin Correa allegedly fired a minimum of 30 rounds from an AR15 while he was on the front porch and when the SWAT team entered, “spread more fire all around inside the home leaving Yates critically wounded and in need of medical attention.”
At least eight deputies fired weapons, according to the complaint, and Yates was killed “after receiving three bullets. One to his abdomen, one to his arm and another execution-style bullet to the back of Yates’ head.”
But the complaint said the head shot did not kill Yates, but he lay “slowly dying” while investigators combed the scene, filed reports and did not call for medical transport until early the next morning. The following day, Aimee Yates claims, the landlord, DeBourge, gave her 24 hours to remove her father’s belongings before he was going to scrap the now-battered trailer.
In a press conference the day after Yates’ death, Lt. Jud Beedy of the Daphne Police Department, a member of the Major Crimes Unit, said there were “two shooting incidents”: when the deputies first entered the home and then again when the SWAT team swarmed. He did not specify whether Yates was the shooter. Beedy said when the investigation was complete, the case would be presented to a grand jury.
“The Major Crimes Unit is just investigating the criminal aspect of this to make sure the law was followed,” he said. “Whether or not they followed procedures, that’s really an internal investigation that will be handled by the sheriff’s office.”
No deputies were injured in the incident. The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorneys’ fees and pre- and post-judgment interest. Filed on March 4, the defendants have not yet responded.
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