Modesto Pays $120,000 to Settle Lawsuit in Warrant-less Search of Home

Modesto has paid $120,000 to a woman and her two adult daughters to settle a lawsuit they filed against the city after police officers entered their home without a search warrant and refused to leave when asked, threatening to arrest the mother.

Police were summoned to the family’s home by a tow truck driver who was trying to re-possess the woman’s car, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Fresno.

The car was parked in the garage of the woman’s home, while she disputed the tow truck driver’s right to take her car. The tow truck driver did not have a court order for the car, according to the lawsuit, but the officers helped him remove it, despite protests from the three women.

The lawsuit says that the officers violated the civil rights of Rosa Letona and her daughters Natalie Letona and Rosemary Banuelos, to be free from having police enter and search their home without a warrant. In addition, the lawsuit contends that Rosa Letona was denied her due process rights by helping the tow truck driver remove the car without court permission.

The repossession appears to have violated the repossession company’s policies. The lawsuit says that the tow truck driver works for DigitalDog Auto Recovery. DigitalDog’s website states the police “may not advance or hinder repossessions” without a court order.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in May. The city did not file a response, so it could challenge the claims made against the officers. Court records show a response was not filed because attorneys for the city and the women expected to reach a settlement.

Letona will receive $70,000 and her two daughters will each receive $25,000, according to city records, from which they are required to pay attorney fees.

The incident took place on April 5, 2011 at the family’s Grouse Crossing Way home in northeast Modesto. Banuelos had her 9-month-old baby with her during the incident and Natalie Letona was pregnant,

According to the lawsuit, a DigitalDog driver tried to repossess Letona’s Mitsubishi Galant.  Rosa Letona told the driver that there was a mistake and she did not owe any money on the car.

At that point, the tow truck driver requested help from the police. The officers arrived and entered the home without permission and asked for the keys to the car.  Rosa Letona called ‘911’ and pleaded with dispatchers to send someone to help her.  She then requested to speak to a lieutenant or the officers’ supervisor. The lawsuit states dispatchers told her not to call ‘911’ again.

The lawsuit says that officers twisted Letona’s arm behind her back, pushed her and handcuffed her and put her in the backseat of a hot police car after she tried to stop officers from entering the garage. The lawsuit states that at one point an officer drew his gun and threatened to shoot the family’s dogs, which were in the garage, if family members did not secure them.

After the officers left, Letona was taken to the hospital by ambulance for a severe anxiety attack.

Letona mentioned that she was a former volunteer with the Redwood City Police Department and that her son is a Marine who has served in Afghanistan. They were described as a “just a regular American family.”

What would you do if police dispatchers told you “not to call ‘911’ again” when you were asking for assistance from the local police?  The police had no warrant to be in her home but went right into her home anyway, and then allegedly pushed and handcuffed her.  Do you think this was a fair settlement? Feel free to comment on this blog post.

For further information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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