A Farmersville couple is fighting back after the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department raided their home and arrested them on December 16, 2019, under the allegation that large quantities of heroin were “transferred” at their residence.
“I told them repeatedly that I didn’t have any weapons and I thought, I can get shot right now and I’ve done nothing,” Brian Perez, 45, said, recalling the moment he faced heavily armed officers outside his home.
Brian Perez and Alba Dominguez have since filed a lawsuit against the County of Tulare and will be represented by the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield LLP early next year.
The Tulare County Risk Management department has rejected the initial claim made by the Farmersville couple and the lawsuit is currently being reviewed by the Tulare County Counsel, according to Ashley Ritchie, Media Supervisor for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office.
Neither the sheriff’s office nor Tulare County have apologized to the couple, they said.
Mr. Perez and Ms. Dominguez are engaged. They live and work together, and were spending the early hours of that cold Monday morning getting ready for another normal workday at the Frito Lay facility.
But as Dominguez was just starting to put her makeup on, she heard sirens in the distance. A few minutes later, Dominguez looked out her window and found a officers surrounding her residence, guns drawn and aimed at her home.
“My first thought was maybe there was a fugitive inside my house,” Dominguez said.
Dominguez called out to her fiancé who was getting ready in a separate room, but her voice was drowned out by an officer’s orders to exit the residence.
Thinking a criminal had invaded their home and she was being told to evacuate for her own wellbeing, Dominguez exited the residence with her hands up.
As she emerged, she heard a cacophony of guns cocking and an officer rushed forward. Dominguez expected to be pushed aside to safety, but instead was quickly handcuffed and sat down on the curb.
At this point, she noticed a pair of armored SWAT vehicles in front of her residence and a crowd of neighbors spectating, some of whom appeared to be recording.
Dominguez, who was still in her pajamas, slippers and only had half her makeup on, was not only confused and embarrassed – she says feared for her life.
“I could’ve gotten shot at any moment,” Dominguez said.
Terrified, handcuffed and shivering in 34 degree weather, Dominguez watched helplessly as officers ordered her fiancé to exit the residence next.
Her fiancé, who was equally shocked and confused, then exited the house with a t-shirt, shorts and no shoes. He raised his hands as law enforcement asked if he was armed.
“They kept yelling, asking if I had weapons,” Perez explained. “I told them repeatedly that I didn’t have any weapons and I thought, I can get shot right now and I’ve done nothing.”
Perez was then handcuffed and put in the backseat of a patrol vehicle, but not without speaking his mind.
“You have the wrong house,” he told the arresting officer. The officer laughed in response, he claims.
The police force then raided the couple’s home in search of drugs and weapons. But the house was quickly cleared of any evidence suggesting illegal activity.
Both Perez and Dominguez were then escorted back inside for interrogation.
In the moments that Perez and Dominguez were taken back inside, the couple was disheartened to find their home in disarray.
“Stuff was thrown everywhere, belongings broken,” Dominguez explained.
Not even the decorations were safe from harm. Their Christmas wreath was thrown on the ground, ornaments shattered. A few Christmas presents were also damaged beyond repair.
Guilty Before Proven Innocent
Once inside, the couple was questioned in separate rooms by Deputy Lowry and Detective Sanchez.
The officers claimed they had surveillance footage of someone going into their home and leaving with a large amount of heroin on Friday, only three days prior to the raid, the couple said.
That couldn’t have been possible, Perez and Dominguez said. They had spent the weekend out of town for a relative’s birthday and presented timestamped photos and a hotel itinerary to back up their alibi.
Those photos and hotel reservations placed the couple roughly 350 miles away from Farmersville — in Las Vegas. They were at the Excalibur Hotel & Casino at the time of the alleged drug transfer.
Believing that maybe now the officers would see the incident as a misunderstanding, Perez tried to explain that he needed to make a phone call and advise his workplace that he and his fiancé were going to be late.
According to Perez, he was met with more laughs. Dominguez experienced similar behavior, stating the officers were being “rude” and talking to her “like she was dumb”.
“Basically we were guilty before proven innocent,” Perez said.
Dominguez presented records from their ADT alarm system, revealing that the house had been locked since Thursday, and that no one had entered or exited the house until Saturday when they both returned from their Vegas trip. The officers were still not convinced.
It’s worth noting that Dominguez and Perez have no criminal history — and Perez is a former probation officer.
Determined to defend their innocence and with his patience wearing thin, Perez tapped into his law enforcement background and began to challenge the detective’s claims.
“Are you sure?” Perez said. “Are you sure it happened inside this house?”
According to Perez, the detective then began to backpedal and said the drug transfer actually happened in the driveway (not inside the house as he had initially claimed).
Noticing the change of story, Perez doubled down and made his position clear to the detective:
“If you have surveillance, then you should know nothing happened here.”
Eventually, Dominguez and Perez were both cleared and no one was taken into custody. Perez said the officers began to leave without a hint of an apology. Officers never provided a warrant, either, he said.
As the officers finally left the residence, Dominguez looked around her shambled living space and felt compelled to ask, “Is anybody gonna clean this up?”
According to Dominguez, Deputy Lowry walked out laughing.
Naturally the couple went down to their local Farmersville police station in search of an explanation for the invasion of their home.
But the officer on duty claimed he was not aware of any raids in that area. In retrospect, both Perez and Dominguez could not recall seeing Farmersville police officers alongside the Sheriff’s Department’s men.
It’s still unclear if Farmersville PD was involved or had knowledge of the raid prior to it’s execution.
Tulare County Sheriff’s Department not coming to the table
Attorney Maggie Melo and her husband John Sarsfield will be representing the Farmersville couple early next year against the County of Tulare for “violations of the Tom Bane Civil Right Act Code, False Imprisonment/False Arrest, Assault/Battery and Infliction of Emotional Distress.”
The lawsuit arrived after multiple attempts to contact the sheriff’s department and discuss the claim. Melo stated that usually an agency would respond within a few weeks to resolve the issue before going to court. But the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office Department did not do that.
“The [Sheriff’s] department rejected the claim and didn’t even want to talk to us,” Melo explained. “They refused every single letter and request to talk. At that point we didn’t have any other option but to file a lawsuit.”
The Valley Voice reached out to the Sheriff’s department in hopes of determining the reason for the rejection of the claim.
Media Supervisor Ritchie did respond to our inquiry, but did not disclose any new information and restated that “the claim was rejected by Risk Management” and that the Tulare County Counsel was currently reviewing “a Complaint of Damages suit.”
Melo explained that it was too late for an apology at this point and expects that if this case should go to trial, that her clients would “obviously win”:
“My clients are looking to be made whole and seek justice…I expect the sheriff’s office to make reparations by giving them some money.”
This confidence comes from a place of experience, as both Melo and Sarsfield are well versed in how peace officers should behave.
Melo has been a prosecutor for 13 years and has a background as a peace officer. Sarsfield has years of experience as a prosecutor and as a military police officer.
“It’s a pretty clear case of police misconduct,” Melo said.
This misconduct is what Melo has referred to as a failure to conduct “a minimally competent investigation”. In other words, the Sheriff’s department did not do their homework.
According to Dominguez, one of the officers told her the raid was executed based on information acquired during a traffic stop a block or so over from their home — the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department potentially raided the home simply on the basis of hearsay.
It’s also possible that the wrong address was accidentally entered into the on-board computer system either by a dispatcher or an officer.
Regardless of the scenario, Melo believes a quick background check on the residence could have avoided the situation. And that nothing justifies the pointing of firearms, false arrest and invasion of an innocent couple’s home.
“This is a colossal failure on the sheriff’s department,” Melo concluded.
Injuries Beyond Repair
Although Melo expects her clients to receive some compensation, there are some aspects of Perez and Dominguez’s lives that cannot be repaired with the swing of a gavel.
For Dominguez, arguably the most difficult consequence of the raid, is that she no longer feels safe in her own home:
“I wake up every morning before I go to work and feel like it’s going to happen again.”
And it seems that some of her family members feel the same way. Dominguez remembers the days when her nieces used to spend the night, something that no longer takes place.
“Ever since it happened, they have not spent the night,” she said while fighting back a swell of tears.
The couple has also picked up a habit of taking photos and collecting receipts and even invested in a $1,000 surveillance camera system, just in case something like this were to happen again.
To add insult to injury, it’s been over a year since the incident occurred and some of their neighbors still refuse to speak to the couple.
But for Perez, the injury following the raid cuts deeper than his bank account or suspicious neighbors, it cut so deep it altered his view of law enforcement altogether:
“I lost a lot of respect for our local sheriff’s department…I had the utmost respect because I was an officer myself. But after this it really made me question what is going on with law enforcement these days…It saddens me to see how they handled our situation.”
Perez’s recent shift in sentiment and the injustice against him and his fiance reflect a pattern of police brutality and civil unrest that has gripped the nation for decades, but more recently made national news with the mass protests and riots following the murder of George Floyd back in May.
It begs the question: Was the raid on Perez and Dominguez’s home just a slip up, or was it yet another incident in a long line of racial injustice?
“A slip up is getting a name misspelled,” Melo answered. “It’s always minorities. You look at Alba and Brian and you have to wonder why they were targeted.”
Melo added she was grateful that in this particular situation no one was shot, because she’s aware that her clients could have easily became the next George Floyd or Breonna Taylor:
“All of a sudden, it brings it home when you have two innocent community members getting attacked by police. The only difference is the ones making national news were shot and killed.”