At about 1 a.m. on Aug. 15, 1975, Thelma Clatterbuck, who is about 60 years old and lives alone in Southeast Washington, was awakened by a sudden, loud banging on her apartment door.
It was the police, bearing a search warrant to conduct a narcotics raid. When no one answered their shouts, they knocked down the women's door with a battering ram, according to a police report of the incident.
At that point, Mrs. Clatterbuck, described in the police report as "hysterical," emerged from her apartment carrying a rifle with a bayonet.
Fearful that the men, whom she says she did not recognize as policemen, were there to rob or kill her, Mrs. Clatterbuck began a "frenzied" attack on the officers with her bayonet, according to the police report.
A police officer, who according to the report was worried that the woman might injure a fellow officer, fired a gunshot at Mrs. Clatterbuck and missed her "by inches." The police weapons review board subsequently found the use of the police weapon "justified."
Mrs. Clatterbuck jumped back into her apartment and shut a second door behind her, the report said. The police broke it down with their battering ram, knocking Mrs. Clatterbuch down in the process, the report said.
When the police found Mrs. Clatterbuck, she appeared stunned, and her head was bleeding, the police report said.
They also discovered that Mrs. Clatterbuck was not the person described in their search warrant. In fact, a thorough search of her apartment produced no evidence of narcotics, the report said. The address on the search warrant, it turned out, was for a workroom next door to Mrs. Clatterbuck's apartment, according to her attorney, Walter M. Nicholson Jr.
As a result, Mrs. Clatterbuck has filed a $250,000 lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court contending that the District government - in the person of its police officers - was negligent, assaulted her, conducted an unlawful entry into her apartment, violated her civil rights and intimidated her, Nicholson said.
In an opinion released yesterday, Chief Judge Harold H. Greene cleared the way for Mrs. Clatterbuck to pursue her claim against the government. He determined that the information in the police report, which included interviews with the police officers and Mrs. Clatterbuck, gave the District timely notice that Mrs. Clatterbuck intended to file her lawsuit.
In the report, issued by the weapons review board, Mrs. Clatterbuck said she retained an attorney "to be sure that the police don't do this to people again."