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Viral-video Rohnert Park police officer named in federal lawsuit against Friendly City

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HOME INVASION Elva and Raul Barajas say a Rohnert Park police officer entered their home with his gun drawn but without a warrant or just cause. Police defend the actions as routine.
  • HOME INVASION Elva and Raul Barajas say a Rohnert Park police officer entered their home with his gun drawn but without a warrant or just cause. Police defend the actions as routine.

Rohnert Park police officer David Rodriguez was already involved in a Fourth Amendment federal lawsuit when he pulled out his service revolver and asked Don McComas if he was "some kind of a constitutionalist crazy guy or something like that" during a tense encounter in McComas' front yard in July. The video McComas took of the incident has since been viewed more than 400,000 times on Youtube.

Rodriguez is one of three Rohnert Park officers named in a lawsuit filed with the U.S. Fourth District Court in San Francisco that alleges he and two other officers, Jacy Tatum and Matthew Snodgrass, unlawfully and without a warrant entered the Rohnert Park home of Elva and Raul Barajas in November 2014 while executing a probation check on their son, Edgar Perez.

The complaint alleges that two of the officers questioned the parents at the front door while the third officer, Tatum, entered the home through a side door with his weapon drawn.

The Barajas' attorney, the San Francisco–based Morrison & Foerster, have asked for a summary judgment from the court, and argue that the officers' training is a key factor in the unconstitutional policing practices going on in the Friendly City.

The suit, in effect, puts Rohnert Park's training guidelines for probationers on trial. "Summary judgment should be granted to ensure that the City of Rohnert Park refrains from searching probationers unless there is reasonable suspicion for believing that the probationer has committed a crime," reads the latest court documents filed Sept. 10.

The complaint charges that as the two officers at the door told the Barajas family why they were there, Tatum entered the home through a rear sliding door, "without consent, startling Plaintiffs and their children, who were now essentially surrounded, with two officers at the front door and one officer standing behind them in their home. Thereafter, the two officers at the front of the home also entered."

Perez wasn't home.

The plaintiffs and defendants have both asked for a summary judgment in their favor from the court on Oct. 15, the date set for the parties to argue their case. If the court denies the motions for summary judgment, the case will go to trial Feb. 29.

The suit rests on the principle that probationers have the same rights as anyone when it comes to search and seizure protections under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution: "The Supreme Court of the United States has made it clear that in order for the government to search an individual, her vehicle or her home, law enforcement must at least have reasonable suspicion to believe that that person has committed a crime," reads the Sept. 10 filing from the plaintiff's lawyers.

"That rule applies equally to probationers," the complaint charges, but "in the city of Rohnert Park, law enforcement has set aside this requirement in every case where a probationer has a search condition as part of her probation."

The case turns on whether the officers can conduct random searches in the absence of a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. Rohnert Park police believe that they can do just that. "That is not the law," the plaintiff's lawyers contend. "As the Supreme Court has held, reasonable suspicion was necessary to search the Barajas home."

A training officer with the Rohnert Park force, Sgt. Jeff Justice, provided testimony that claimed police in Rohnert Park could execute a random probation search even on a probationer who was, for example, sitting on a park bench feeding the ducks.

Tatum, identified in the suit as the officer who entered the Barajas home through a side door with his gun drawn, testified that he's done that same thing at least 50 or 60 times in previous probation checks, according to court documents.

The Barajas lawyers conclude in their suit that "the city has sanctioned and ratified its police officers' actions to conduct unlawful searches, including in this case; failed to train and supervise its officers properly to ensure they only conduct searches under the color of the law; and acted with deliberate indifference in failing to properly train its officers or to adopt policies necessary to prevent such constitutional violations."

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