A case alleging Tulare County deputy sheriffs used excessive force during a botched raid on a Farmersville couple’s home while carrying out a fruitless search for narcotics may proceed, a Tulare County Superior Court judge ruled Monday, December 6.
Motion Lacked Specificity
Attorneys defending the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) assert the officers were acting lawfully when they placed Farmersville residents Brian Perez and Alba Dominguez in handcuffs and held them at gunpoint outside their home while conducting a search of the interior on the morning of December 16, 2019, and they hoped Judge Nathan Ide would grant a motion for summary dismissal of the case against their clients on that basis. He declined.
On Monday, Ide confirmed his denial of that request, which was revealed in a tentative ruling issued on December 3. In his ruling, Ide found county attorneys failed to follow court rules by clearly stating in their request for dismissal what portion of the law allowed their clients to hold Perez and Dominguez–who were cooperative, constrained and unarmed–in an aggressive manner.
“The court will not guess as to the issues sought to be summarily adjudicated without compliance with the California Rules of Court,” Ide wrote.
The ruling marks the removal of the final barrier to the case’s advancement, and a jury trial is scheduled in Ide’s courtroom beginning the morning of January 10.
“We look forward to the trial,” said John Sarsfield, a Visalia civil rights attorney representing the couple.
Arrest or Detainment?
The central argument of the suit depends on whether a jury hearing the matter will see the treatment of Perez and Dominguez as a detention or an arrest. If holding the couple is ruled to be a mere detention, the officers are immune from civil lawsuits; however, the same treatment of Perez and Dominguez may constitute gross violations of the couples’ rights if they were under arrest.
The events that transpired on December 16, 2019 as retold in plaintiff’s filings are undisputed by the TCSO and its attorneys.
When deputies arrived at the couple’s home, the pair were in the middle of preparing to leave for work. On what was a typically cold winter morning, the half-dressed couple were handcuffed and held at gunpoint for a period of 20 to 40 minutes in the street outside. During that time, the couple informed the deputies they were searching the wrong address.
Perez and Dominguez would later prove they were in Las Vegas at the time the alleged crimes that led deputies to seek a search warrant for their home took place.
“The county argues that the false imprisonment claim of plaintiffs fails because the detainment of plaintiffs was … under lawful privilege,” Ide wrote. “Defendants further argue that Government Code section 821.6 provides a complete defense to battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
False Arrest, Assault and Infliction of Emotional Distress
Sarsfield will argue actions of the deputies exceeded mere detention due to an over-aggressive handling of Perez and Dominguez, the handcuffing of the couple, and deputies’ ongoing threat of deadly force after the couple was restrained.
Further, the deputies’ decision to isolate the couple from one another after instructing them not to talk to each other, and the Mirandizing of Perez–an explanation of legal rights normally reserved only for arrestees–also show TCSO deputies considered the couple under arrest, Sarfield will contend in court. He intends to prove deputies acted outside the scope of their authority in the way they detained Perez and Dominguez, falsely arresting and imprisoning them, assaulting them, and intentionally inflicting emotional distress by continuing the behavior after it was obvious the couple presented no threat to the officers present.
“They had no legal cause to stick guns in the faces of our clients,” Sarsfield said previously. “They knew they were unarmed.”
The parties to the suit had a last formal opportunity to conclude the matter before trial during a settlement conference scheduled for Wednesday, December 8. However, the parties failed to reach a compromise, and the trial will proceed on January 10.