LITTLE ROCK — Federal agents who raided a Little Rock bottling plant in January of 2012 did not violate employees’ constitutional rights, a federal appeals court said Thursday.

LITTLE ROCK — Federal agents who raided a Little Rock bottling plant in January of 2012 did not violate employees’ constitutional rights, a federal appeals court said Thursday.


The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis upheld a federal judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by water bottling company Mountain Pure and several of its employees against Cynthia Roberts, an agent with the Small Business Administration, and Bobbi Spradlin, an IRS agent.


Twenty unidentified agents initially were included as defendants, but Mountain Pure later dropped them from the suit.


Roberts and Spradlin were among 35 federal and state law officers who raided Mountain Pure because the government suspected the company had fraudulently obtained a disaster loan by claiming undamaged equipment had been damaged in a tornado.


Mountain Pure alleged that during the raid agents used excessive force by bringing an excessive number of officers and by pushing employees against a wall and pointing a gun at the company’s vice president. It also alleged that employees were detained and their cell phones were seized in violation of their constitutional protection against unlawful search and seizure, and that officers seized items that went beyond the scope of their search warrant.


A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit said Thursday it agreed with the lower-court judge that the search of the facility was reasonable; the number of officers was not excessive; the detention of the employees from mid- to late-afternoon was reasonable; and the seizure of some items beyond the scope of the warrant was permissible because the agents could have reasonably believed the warrant covered those items.


The appeals court also said the seizure of the cell phones was reasonable, given that smartphones can be used to access electronic files and delete them, destroying evidence.


The court said there is evidence that unknown agents pushed two employees against walls and pointed a gun at one employee, but "the employees dismissed their claims against the unknown agents and there is no evidence showing that Roberts or Spradlin ‘participated in, ordered or condoned’ the alleged use of excessive force."