Utah family sues parole agents, alleging illegal forced entry and arrests
Father was stunned by Taser, mother knocked down and cuffed, guns were pointed at children, lawsuit alleges
SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake family is suing Adult Probation and Parole after they say officers forcibly entered their home in search of an adult son they knew didn’t live there, shocking a 57-year-old man with a Taser, knocking a 53-year-old woman to the ground and handcuffing her, and pointing a gun at a teenager during a two-hour ordeal.
“It is every family’s worst nightmare,” said S. Starling Marshall, partner at Crowell and Moring LLP, which has joined another law firm and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah Foundation in filing a lawsuit on behalf of the Yañez family.
“You sit down to dinner as a family, and then agents storm into your home and brutally attack you in front of your children. We cannot allow this type of behavior by law enforcement to go unchecked. Crowell & Moring stands with the Yañez family in bravely pursuing these claims to ensure that this does not happen to other Utah families.”
The Yañez family, which includes three adults and three children, were home having dinner on Aug. 20, 2018, when Adult Probation and Parole agents smashed open the front door, used a shield to enter and knocked two adults to the ground, in what they said was an effort to find a family member who had defaulted on bail but who doesn’t live at the home, the lawsuit claims.
A spokeswoman for the probation agency declined comment, citing the pending court case.
The family said the agents banged on the door demanding entry, and family members can be heard on a video shared by the ACLU of Utah repeatedly saying the man officers are looking for isn’t there, asking for a warrant, and saying they can’t come into the house. An agent standing behind a shield and preparing to come in the front door later tells them officers don’t need a search warrant to enter if it is an address of record of someone they have an arrest warrant for.
According to the lawsuit, agents had come looking for the same family member — the son of two of the plaintiffs — on two other occasions, and both times were told he didn’t live in the home and wasn’t there any of the times agents came looking for him.
Once the agents smashed open the door, videos from the family show agents tackling 53-year-old Maria Garcia and her husband, 57-year-old Munir Yañez. Officers handcuffed Garcia and shocked Yañez with a Taser as he cried out in agony, all of which can be heard on the videos, one of which was recorded by their 17-year-old son.
The 17-year-old can be heard crying in one of the videos as his parents are taken to the ground by officers.
“As defendants entered the home, three defendants pointed assault rifles at (the 17-year-old’s) head, despite the fact that (he) did not pose a threat to the safety of them or any other officer,” the suit said. “(He) froze in fear at the sight of the weapons.”
The teenager was then ordered to sit down on the floor and not move, and was handcuffed even after telling officers that he was a minor, the suit said. Eventually, he was taken to the front lawn where his mother, father and older brother were in handcuffs, while his two younger siblings were told by officers to jump out a kitchen window, “approximately 4 feet, to the ground,” the suit states.
All three children were “detained” for 2 1/2 hours by officers, according to the lawsuit. Munir Yañez and his adult son were taken to jail, while the others were released at the house.
“These shocking acts against the Yañez family in their own home is beyond the bounds of constitutional protections,” said John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah. “No more Utah families should be subjected to these kinds of excessive tactics.”
In a video posted to YouTube by the ACLU of Utah, Garcia and Yañez discuss what happened and why they felt compelled to file a lawsuit. As Yañez talks about being “tortured” by multiple Taser blasts, his wife silently weeps next to him.
The lawsuit alleges that the way the family was treated is “part of a pattern, practice and/or custom of deploying excessive force against family members of fugitives under AP&P’s supervision in retaliation for family members not providing information to help AP&P apprehend those fugitives,” the suit claims.
“Even after it became clear to defendants that Jose (the older son) was not in the home, defendants threatened to return to the home if they could not locate Jose on the day of the raid,” the lawsuit alleges. It goes on to assert that Adult Probation and Parole allows bail bond companies to accompany them when defendants are close to defaulting on bonds.
While the family members were being detained on the lawn, most of them in handcuffs, officers entered the house and searched for two hours, leaving a massive mess, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint also alleges that “the agents stole $7,000 in savings that the Yañez family planned to use to pay for their only daughter’s Quinceanera” party; that agents taunted Yañez, who is a U.S. citizen, on the way to jail telling him that he’d “be back in Mexico tomorrow”; that Garcia saw agents place a kitchen knife where her adult son had been tackled and handcuffed in an effort to justify his arrest; and that Garcia was told she “must know where her son is because you are a Latina.”
In addition to suing 12 Adult Parole and Probation agents by name, the complaint also names Mike Haddon, the executive director for the Department of Corrections, and Dan Blanchard, director of Utah Adult Probation and Parole,” as well as 12 additional unnamed officers.