San Francisco

Jury Awards Rohnert Park Couple $145,000 for Unconstitutional Police Search

A federal jury in San Francisco on Thursday awarded a Rohnert Park couple $145,000 for an unconstitutional search of their home by three city police officers in 2014.

Elva and Raul Barajas will receive $75,000 from the city and the officers as well as an additional punitive award of $70,000 from one officer, former Sgt. Jacy Tatum, who entered the couple's house from the back door with his gun drawn on Nov. 4, 2014, while the other two officers were at the front door.

Tatum, Officer Matthew Snodgrass and now-retired Officer Dave Rodriguez were conducting a routine probation check on Elva Barajas's adult son, Edgar Perez, who was on probation from a felony drug possession conviction. The home was Perez's residence but he was not present during the search.

The jury found that both the city and the officers were responsible for violating the U.S. Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and that Tatum was additionally liable for an unreasonable entry into the house, negligence and violation of the right to privacy, according to the jury verdict posted on the court's online docket.

But the jury rejected an additional claim that the search was unfair harassment by the officers in retaliation for previous confrontations with Perez.

The verdict came after a five-day trial in the court of U.S. Magistrate Sallie Kim. 

Alexis Amezcua, a lawyer for the couple, said in a statement, "The jury understood that parents do not forfeit their constitutional rights simply because their child is on probation.

"We realize that searching probationers is important, but it can be done in a way that respects the rights of other people who live in the home," she said.

Amezcua said the couple will now ask the court for an injunction prohibiting the city from allowing warrantless searches in similar situations.

"We will use this verdict to obtain an injunction barring defendants from barging into families' homes, detaining all residents, and searching every room, simply because one of the residents is on probation," the attorney said.

Kim has scheduled a hearing on the request for Jan. 7 and has directed both sides to file briefs discussing their positions on the issue.

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