The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office and its officers have no immunity for false arrest and assault against a Farmersville couple that occurred during an allegedly botched search warrant service, a Tulare County Superior Court judge has ruled.
Jury Trial Scheduled
In a June 18 decision, the Hon. Nathan Ide ruled the department and its officers did not violate the Bane Civil Rights Act when it executed a search warrant at the Farmersville home of Brian Perez and Alba Dominguez in the early morning hours of December 16, 2019. However, Ide further ruled the TCSO and the deputies involved are not immune from a civil rights lawsuit that alleges they falsely arrested and imprisoned the couple, assaulting and battering them in the process.
The couple is seeking monetary damages for infliction of emotional distress.
A settlement conference is scheduled in the matter on December 8; but, a readiness conference is also scheduled for January 7, 2022, followed by a jury trial on January 10, 2022. Those dates could be voided pending the outcome of mediation scheduled for September 23. Ide remains the judge of record.
Ten days have been set aside to hear the case should it proceed.
Tension and Release
For Perez, the news is welcome.
“I’m feeling good about everything moving forward the way our case has been going,” he said. “I just want justice.”
For his fiancée, the ruling is yet another distraction, another stressor in the seemingly endless chaos of a tempest of events that began when the TCSO allegedly entered the wrong home while searching for drugs and guns.
“This has been going on since really late 2019, and I haven’t been able to get my life back to the way it was,” Dominguez said. “This has been a lot emotionally for both of us. This is new to me. I just want to put this behind me.”
But she can’t, not until the case is settled or decided, and the county appears poised to fight in the face of what would seem to be incontrovertible evidence of wrong-doing on the part of the officers involved. Meanwhile, the suit is consuming the couple’s lives.
“We’ve been putting a lot of time into this. It’s hard to go back and worry about the day-to-day stuff,” Dominguez said. “It’s very draining.”
Unwelcome Holiday Visitors
According to the couple and their attorneys, as Perez and Dominguez were preparing for work at around 7 a.m. December 16, 2019, officers of the TCSO’s SWAT team arrived to execute a warrant at their home, alleging guns and a large amount of narcotics were being stored there.
Still half-dressed, the couple–who cooperated with the warrant execution–were handcuffed and made to wait outside their home in 34-degree weather while the officers conducted their search.
During what is alleged to be a belligerent and violent treatment of the couple–who were held at gunpoint by officers–the pair say deputies told them they had video evidence proving drug sales and storage were taking place in their home. Deputies said they were certain Perez, who is a former probation officer, and Dominguez were involved.
Deputies discovered no narcotics or guns during the raid, which took place nine days before Christmas.
“What they did find were wrapped gifts that they damaged,” said attorney Maggie Melo, who represents the couple. “When they were satisfied they screwed up our clients’ lives enough, they left without an apology.”
TCSO a Danger to Itself?
According to Melo, who spent 13 years as a prosecuting attorney specializing in narcotics cases, the TCSO mishandled the warrant execution to the point of extreme negligence, placing not only the lives of her clients in jeopardy, but those of the officers involved as well.
“You just can’t go around pointing guns at people, terrorizing neighborhoods, without just cause,” she said. “These people screwed the pooch.”
Had the TCSO officers contacted the Farmersville Police Department–Melo says checking with the local jurisdiction is generally standard procedure, but didn’t happen in this case–they would have discovered they had the wrong address, and would likely have learned of Perez’s former employment in law enforcement. The FPD had visited Perez and Dominguez previously, but not because of illegal activity on their part.
“The Farmersville Police Department had been in that neighborhood and contacted our clients because their neighbors appeared to be engaged in narcotics sales,” Melo said. “They went there to warn them. Next door is a drug house.”
Video of the botched raid shot by the TCSO plays like a scene from an overproduced Hollywood B movie, Melo says, blaring music drowning events as an over-eager team of officers readies itself to invade Perez and Dominguez’s early morning home. A more reasonable approach, one frequently used in Melo’s experience with similar cases, is the so-called “soft knock” warrant service, which is conducted by plain-clothes detectives.
“Instead they sent the tank. Instead they sent the SWAT team,” Melo said. “They sent everyone and their mother.”
Had they done their homework, TCSO officers might have discovered Perez and Dominguez were in Las Vegas on the day the alleged drug transfer and sale took place. The couple provided ticket stubs and photographs establishing they were not at home at the time of the alleged crimes. A record provided by their alarm company shows the couple’s home remained undisturbed during their absence.
The behavior of the TCSO’s officers created a highly dangerous situation for the officers, her clients and surrounding neighbors, Melo says, creating an environment of chaos.
“It’s just inappropriate,” she said. “You don’t do something like out of a movie. You keep yourself safe.”
And you keep members of the public safe.
“You see all these cop shootings, cops shooting innocent bystanders like Brionna Taylor, and you see how easy it is,” Melo said.
County Ready to Fight
Even with evidence appearing to clearly indicate the TCSO had the wrong people at the wrong address, the county still seems poised and ready to fight the claims Perez and Dominguez have laid against its officers.
In similar situations in other jurisdictions, the defendants frequently choose to settle before the matter reaches a jury, leaving Melo puzzled about Tulare County’s apparent reticence.
“We have had other cases where cops have gone in there, pointed guns, damaged property (and gotten settlement offers),” Melo said. “Not with this department.”
A spokesperson for the county declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Additionally, the county declined to comment on why one of the officers involved in the raid is still employed by the TCSO despite his well-documented violent past, citing the officer’s right to privacy.
The officer in question is Detective Bari Molyneux, who was captured on video in 2013 violently assaulting his neighbor during a dispute over landscaping.
Right This Minute Video
According to reporting in 2013 by the national news show Right This Minute, Molyneux and his wife were recorded trespassing on their next-door neighbor’s property before assaulting a man identified only as Will.
Footage of the incident presented by Right This Minute’s reporters and included here with this report shows a woman identified as “the shirtless guy’s wife” raking leaves while a shirtless Molyneux and the property owner stand toe-to-toe in confrontation. While the two men argue, the property owner’s wife, who filmed the incident, repeats the demand that the couple leave.
Molyneux then strikes his neighbor repeatedly in the face and head as he chases him across the yard, eventually knocking him to the ground. Molyneux continues beating the man in the head and upper body while straddling him as the video ends. The victim’s wife can be heard yelling in the background, apparently instructing a child to go inside their home.
Officers from the Visalia Police Department were called to the scene, but no arrests were made after they reviewed the video evidence. The matter was referred to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office for additional review. When asked how the matter was handled by that office, Assistant District Attorney David Alavezos replied that if an officer of the law was prosecuted by that office, it would be “a matter of public record.”
Molyneux’s past professional conduct will be relevant if the case comes to trial, as Melo has already introduced Right This Minute’s report as evidence in the case. His behavior may be indicative of a culture of violence and disregard for civil rights at the TCSO. Molyneux received a commendation and employee recognition from the TCSO in 2018.
“He’s involved in this (the raid at the Perez and Dominguez home),” she said. “We’re going to ask him all about his prior conduct and his violent conduct toward people, and why he’s still working as a law enforcement agent.”
$2.25 Million Bad Arrest
Melo and her co-counsel also intend to discuss Molyneux’s involvement in another incident in 2017 that left an Exeter man paralyzed for life after officers of the Woodlake and Exeter police departments shot a 19-year-old man five times in the back.
In that incident, police attempted to stop a man, Adonis Serna, who was driving a van borrowed from a friend. The van had been reported stolen and had allegedly been used in the commission of a homicide. Molyneux initiated the stop after noticing Serna was wearing gloves, which he found “just peculiar,” the Visalia Times-Delta reported in 2019. No gloves were reported at the scene.
Serna said the men–who were not uniformed or driving marked cars–never identified themselves as law enforcement officers.
Serna received a $2.25 million settlement paid by Exeter and Woodlake. Charges against him stemming from the incident were reduced from several felony charges–including assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon–to two misdemeanor counts after Woodlake officer Oscar Robles, a key witness, was indicted on multiple felonies related to a string of sexual assaults. The civil suit resulted when reporting by the officers failed to match the evidence of Serna’s injuries.
Molyneux did not discharge his firearm during the incident. The county denied all wrongdoing on his behalf and was dismissed as a defendant.
Officers whose past conduct has made them questionable witnesses can be included on a register known as the Brady List. Assistant DA Alavezos was unable to comment directly on whether conduct such as that of Molyneux would warrant inclusion on that list.
“We don’t discuss how the Brady List works,” he said. “If someone is deemed to have done an act or omission that would be considered that would be disclosable in a criminal case, we would disclose that.”
The video of Molyneux apparently attacking his neighbor without provocation may not show that, Alavezos says.
“One person may think an act is impeachment evidence,” he said. “Someone else may not.”
‘I Didn’t Do Anything Wrong’
Meanwhile, as the lawsuit moves ahead slowly, Brian Perez and Alba Dominguez struggle to live with the emotional fallout from the incident of December 16, 2019. Fear and anxiety present themselves in unexpected ways. When the couple decided they needed a getaway, Perez says he was reluctant to have anyone check on his home during their absence.
“We went on vacation before and came home to this (TCSO’s allegedly botched raid),” he said. “It played on my mind. I’m scared. I don’t want anyone coming to the house. They’ll say they’re doing something wrong. “
Dominguez finds worry stopping her cold.
“There are times when we’re getting ready for work in the morning. I’ll think, ‘Are they coming in? Should I get fully dressed?’” she said. “I wasn’t fully dressed last time.”
As she prepares to face the people who invaded her home again, this time in front a judge and jury, she is still filled with trepidation, but also with purpose.
“People have told me you need to do this because you need to stand up for the next people. What if next time someone dies?” Dominguez said. “That helps me. At the end of the day, I didn’t do anything wrong.”