Morrison & Foerster Prevails in Federal Jury Trial Over Illegal Search in California

11/01/2018

Arturo J. González, Alexis A. Amezcua, and Caitlin Sinclaire Blythe

MoFo News Item

A federal jury ruled today for Morrison & Foerster’s clients, Elva and Raul Barajas, in a lawsuit against the City of Rohnert Park, California over violations of the U.S. and California Constitutions. The case revolved around the police department’s unlawful search of the Barajas home, a violation of the family’s civil and Fourth Amendment rights.

The Morrison & Foerster pro bono trial team on the matter includes Commercial Litigation and Trial Practice Group chair Arturo Gonzalez, litigation partner Alexis Amezcua and litigation associate Caitlin Blythe. All are based in San Francisco.

Rohnert Park police officers Jacy Tatum, David Rodriguez and Matthew Snodgrass had come to the Barajas home in 2014 looking for the couple’s son, who was on probation; despite the officers’ lack of a search warrant and the couple stating their son wasn’t home, police officers entered the home without the consent of Mr. or Ms. Barajas. One officer entered through a back door with his gun drawn.

The ruling this afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California determined that the officers entered the home unreasonably under the U.S. and California Constitutions. The trial was held before Judge Sallie Kim. The jury awarded total damages of $75,000 to Mr. and Ms. Barajas, and $70,000 in punitive damages against the officer who entered through the back door with gun drawn.

“The jury understood that parents do not forfeit their constitutional rights simply because their child is on probation,” said Ms. Amezcua. “We will use this verdict to obtain an injunction barring defendants from barging into family’s homes, detaining all residents, and searching every room, simply because one of the residents is on probation.”

“We realize that searching probationers is important,” added Ms. Amezcua, “but it can be done in a way that respects the rights of other people who live in the home.”

Next, the firm intends to file an injunction to stop the Rohnert Park Police Department from conducting further illegal searches.

“We brought this lawsuit to help other families,” said plaintiff Raul Barajas. “We hope things will change, and that law enforcement officers will respect the rights of all families in our community.”

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