ACLU sues Utah law enforcement over alleged illegal and ‘violent’ raid

(Screenshot courtesy ACLU of Utah) This screengrab of an ACLU of Utah video shows Maria Garcia and Munir Yañez, who allege the Utah Division of Adult Probation & Parole violated their constitutional rights during a 2018 raid of their home.

Utah probation and parole officers illegally entered a Salt Lake City home during a “violent” raid in August 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and two law firms allege in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, contends officers violated the Yañez family’s protection against unlawful searches under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution when they broke into the Rose Park home, looking for an adult relative who didn’t live there and was not present at the time.

The man had either defaulted or was close to defaulting on his bail bond, the lawsuit notes, speculating that the raid was “the result of a pattern and practice of [Adult Probation and Parole] allowing bail bond company agents” to “co-opt” their tactical teams in search of fugitives that would cost them money.

The plaintiffs — the three adults and three children who were in the house — asked multiple times to see a search warrant but agents never produced one, the lawsuit contends.

An officer was recorded loudly telling the family, “We do not need a search warrant in this particular situation," in one of two videos of the raid the ACLU released. On the videos, family members can be heard yelling and crying as officers tackled Maria Garcia, 53, with a riot shield, and pinned her husband, Munir Yañez, to the ground before firing a Taser at him.

“Everything they did was an abuse that violated our rights in all levels,” said Munir Yañez, 57, in a video interview the ACLU recorded and translated to English.

The ACLU said that law enforcement officers had an arrest warrant for Munir Yañez’s son, José Yañez, who had violated his probation after agreeing to a plea deal for a class A misdemeanor charge of sexual battery. The lawsuit originally described the conviction as a nonviolent crime, but the ACLU said Thursday that it would amend its complaint to remove that language and describe the crime instead as a misdemeanor.

The arrest warrant did not expressly authorize them to enter the home, the lawsuit states.

The 62-page complaint — filed also by the law firms Covington & Burling, LLP, and Crowell & Moring LLP — alleges that after the family refused to let them in, about 18 officers proceeded to simultaneously break down the front and back doors of the home.

John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, noted that AP&P officers had multiple previous contacts with the family and were aware that José Yañez had not lived in the residence since the summer of 2017. None of the family members posed a threat at any time, he said.

“Law enforcement needs to respect people and use the kind of tactics that are appropriate for a situation, and here it would have simply been talking to the family in a calm way. That’s not what happened,” Mejia told The Salt Lake Tribune in an interview.

During the raid, the lawsuit alleges that one or multiple agents stole $7,000 the Yañez family had saved and planned to use for their daughter’s quinceañera, a rite of passage celebration widely celebrated in Latino cultures. Agents allegedly pointed a gun at one of the minors in the home and made racist comments, such as telling Garcia that she must know where her son is “because you are a Latina,” the suit said.

Law enforcement officers took Munir Yañez, who is a U.S. citizen, to jail, telling him, “You’re going to be in Mexico tomorrow,” the lawsuit contends. He was released and never charged with a crime.

After detaining the family members, one or more of those named in the lawsuit called members of the Violent Fugitive Apprehension Team and agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to investigate them, according to the complaint.

The family alleges there was a conspiracy to violate its civil rights based on ethnicity and national origin, and the suit seeks policy changes to prevent a similar raid from happening to anyone else in the state.

“The kind of policy change we would want is [for officers] to sort of stop this pattern of using excessive force against people in situations where it’s clearly not called for,” Mejia said, arguing there was no need for the officers to wear military-style gear like bulletproof vests and helmets.

In a video interview the ACLU recorded and translated into English, Garcia said the family had come to the ACLU at the recommendation of the Mexican Consulate and said she hoped to see justice for her family and the larger Mexican community.

“I wish for the authorities to realize how they discriminate against our Hispanic community, who they come and attack — innocent families, innocent children — and how these children and their families are affected by these attacks and this treatment," she said. "Stop doing this to our families and community.”

The lawsuit names individual AP&P agents involved in the raid, the director of the AP&P fugitive team who oversaw the raid, the executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections and other unnamed defendants.

The Utah Department of Corrections, of which the Adult Probation and Parole is a division, said Wednesday that it would not comment on the ongoing litigation.