City of Morgan Hill Settles in Police Misconduct Case: Family Wins

A small victory for a Morgan Hill family who filed a complaint against the local police department for: Entering the home without a warrant or cause, conducting an illegal search, making a false arrest, violating civil rights, and displaying negligence and improper training. The City has awarded the family a $75,000 settlement. The Morgan Hill Police Department has two more lawsuits pending against it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011
By Michael Moore – The Morgan Hill Times

The city of Morgan Hill paid a $75,000 settlement to a resident who accused local police officers of misconduct.

Maria Jesus Belasquez, Rudy Martinez and Rudy Belasquez Martinez, Jr., filed a complaint against Morgan Hill police in November 2010. The federal lawsuit accused officers of entering their home without a warrant and without cause, illegal search, false arrest, violation of civil rights, negligence and improper training…The plaintiffs claimed the police entered their home on the 600 block of Calle Buena Vista in August 2009 to conduct a probation search for Gabriel Mendoza. They claimed the search was illegal and violated their constitutional rights.

Following a closed city council meeting Oct. 26, city attorney Danny Wan reported that the police department relied on faulty data from the Santa Clara County probation database. The incorrect, out-of-date information indicated that a suspect on probation was in the home, which would have allowed police to conduct the search.

However, the database information was wrong, and Mendoza’s probation had expired, Wan said.

The council voted unanimously to pay the $75,000 settlement to the plaintiffs.

The city’s internal self-insurance fund will likely pay for the total cost of the settlement, plus about $23,000 in legal fees that piled up before the agreement was approved, Wan said. The city’s insurance policy requires the city to pay the first $100,000 in fees, damages and other costs associated with such lawsuits.

The self-insurance fund is financed by various city departments, including the general fund, that have the potential to generate property or general liability claims, city manager Ed Tewes said.

As part of the settlement, the plaintiffs agreed to release all claims against the city, its employees and individual police officers.

In their original complaint, the plaintiffs sought $10 million in damages.

The city continues to fight two more federal lawsuits alleging local police misconduct.

In one of those the plaintiff and former Morgan Hill resident, Abduraham Mohammed, alleged that he was wrongly arrested on suspicion of burglary April 29, 2008. He and his mother Jinow Gudal, a co-claimant, claimed his arrest was a result of improper training and negligence by the Morgan Hill officers who detained him, and police denied him of his constitutionally protected rights to due process, freedom from racial profiling and civil rights. Abduraham, who died earlier this year, was African-American.

His criminal case was eventually dismissed, but while he was incarcerated Mohammed, 21 at the time, said he suffered from a brain tumor which became increasingly severe as he was denied medical care by jail staff.

Included in his lawsuit are the Santa Clara County district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices, and the correctional facilities where he was detained for six months.

That case is on hold until Gudal can file an “amended complaint” due to Mohammed’s death, according to deputy county counsel Mark Bernal. Gudal has until Nov. 30 to file the complaint.

Finally, a third federal lawsuit alleging police misconduct remains “mired in motions,” Wan said.

Morgan Hill resident Gary Easley filed a complaint June 16, 2010, against the Morgan Hill police department and individual officers, as well as the sheriff’s office. The plaintiff said he was the victim of excessive force in 2009 when police arrested him on suspicion of trespassing.

Easley, who is representing himself in the lawsuit, has recently continued to file motions, Wan said.

The city has denied the allegations in the Easley and Mohammed cases.

Both are covered under the city’s ABAG insurance plan, and both would require the city to pay up to the first $100,000 in legal costs and damages.

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