MODESTO — 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 warrant, refused to leave when asked and threatened to arrest the woman.
Police were summoned to the familys home by a tow truck driver who was trying to repossess the womans car, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Fresno.
The car was parked in the garage and the woman disputed the tow truck drivers right to take it. The 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 woman.
The lawsuit says the officers violated the civil rights of Rosa Letona and her daughters Natalie Letona and Rosemary Banuelos to be free of having police enter and search their home without a warrant and denied Rosa Letona of her due process rights by helping the tow truck driver remove the car without court permission.
The repossession appears to have violated the repossession companys policies. The lawsuit says the tow truck driver works for DigitalDog Auto Recovery. DigitalDogs website states the police may not advance or hinder repossessions without a court order.
Justice was served in this case, said Livermore attorney Sanjay S. Schmidt, who represented Letona and her two daughters.
City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood provided this statement by email:
The City chose to settle the subject civil actions after conducting a cost/benefit analysis of pursuing further litigation in each case.
The City did not admit any fault or wrongdoing on the part of any defendant in either action, and each settlement was the settlement of a disputed claim.
The lawsuit was filed in May in federal court. The city did not file a response in which 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 $25,000 each, according to city records. They will have to pay attorney fees from their settlements.
The lawsuit names officers Brian Ferguson, Benjamin Kroutil, Jonathan Griffith and Ben Brandvold and Sgt. Daniel Key as defendants.
The incident took place April 5, 2011, at the familys 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 Letonas Mitsubishi Galant. Letona told the driver there was a mistake and she did not owe money on the car.
The tow truck driver then requested help from 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 requested to speak to a lieutenant or the officers supervisor. The lawsuit says dispatchers told her not to call 911 again.
The lawsuit says officers twisted Letonas arm behind her back, pushed her and handcuffed her and put her in the back of a hot police car after she tried to stop officers from entering the garage. The lawsuit says at one point one officer drew his gun and threatened to shoot the familys dogs, which were in the garage, if family members did not secure them.
After the officers left, Letona was taken by ambulance to the hospital for a severe anxiety attack.
For me, its amazing, Letona, 53, said. My attorney really did a good job. I never thought wed win, but the police made a big mistake to enter my home.
Schmidt, the familys attorney, said Letona is a former volunteer with the Redwood City Police Department and her son is a Marine who has served in Afghanistan.
Shes like anybodys neighbor, Schmidt said. They are just a regular American family.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.