Rohnert Park couple testify police home search in 2014 left them in distress
SAN FRANCISCO — Edgar Perez was an absent son, a drug user who had admitted to family he was addicted to methamphetamine, his stepfather Raul Barajas testified Thursday in a federal civil rights trial against Rohnert Park police.
Perez disappeared sometimes for days or months, before turning up again to sleep on the couch at his family’s Santa Barbara Drive home in Rohnert Park. He didn’t have a bedroom there, but Perez listed his family’s house as his address after he was jailed in 2010 for felony drug possession and sentenced to probation.
So on Nov. 4, 2014, that’s where three Rohnert Park police officers came looking for Perez, then 35, to conduct a routine probation search and ensure he was abiding by the rules set by Sonoma County Superior Court. Perez was not home when the officers arrived, including an embattled ex-sergeant, Brendon Jacy Tatum, who slipped through a back door of the Santa Barbara Drive house with his gun drawn, then holstered the weapon before taking the Barajas family by surprise.
Thursday was the third day of the trial in U.S. District Court in San Francisco in the civil rights case against the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department brought by Elva and Raul Barajas. They claim in their lawsuit that while police may have had the authority to search Perez, the officers violated his law-abiding family members’ constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment against warrantless searches when they looked into every room and closet in the house,. They are suing Rohnert Park and the three public safety officers involved.
“Why has this incident caused you to want to have your doors shut and your drapes closed?” said attorney Alexis Amezcua, a lawyer for the family, questioning Elva Barajas.
“Because I feel I don’t have any security in my home,” Barajas said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter.
“You know now that when Officer Tatum entered your house, he did so with his gun drawn. How does that make you feel?,” Amezcua said.
“Very bad,” Barajas said.
Lawyers for Rohnert Park Public Safety Department said the three officers — Tatum, now-retired officer Dave Rodriguez and Officer Matthew Snodgrass — were polite and the search was legal under the terms of Perez’s probation, which allowed officers to come into his home without notice “any hour of the day or reasonable hour of the night.”
But the Barajases are seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress caused by the search, and in his opening statements Tuesday their lead attorney Arturo Gonzalez said they are not concerned with the money and filed the suit in order to push the department to change its practices.
The case spotlights the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department at a time when its leadership and oversight of its officers have come under public scrutiny.
Tatum quit in June, followed by the retirement of the department’s longtime director, Brian Masterson. The city has since hired a police auditor to conduct a broad investigation into policies and practices, prompted by complaints over its missions to intercept drugs and cash on Highway 101, often far outside city limits.
The Barajases and their daughter testified Thursday, revealing more about Perez’s struggles and his contacts with police. Perez, now 39, is undergoing drug rehabilitation and will not testify in the trial, which will resume Tuesday.