Saturday, September 1, 2007
Judge Rules Against Party Patrol
By Jim Snyder
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
Three Albuquerque party patrol officers who entered a home without a search warrant violated the homeowner's constitutional rights, a federal judge ruled this week.
U.S. District Court Judge William "Chip" Johnson determined the officers were liable for entering Mary Roybal's home on April 8, 2005, without a search warrant. Doing so, he said, violated Roybal's Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
A jury on Thursday awarded Roybal $42,000 in damages.
But the case could cost the city close to $200,000 because it will also have to pay attorney fees, Roybal's attorney, Joe Kennedy, said Friday.
"The jury was only looking at the amount of damages," City Attorney Bob White said.
The city, which continues to deny liability, is considering whether to appeal.
Seven party patrol officers responded to Roybal's home because of a complaint of loud music.
The party patrol whose mission is to break up underage drinking parties has been criticized in the past for going into people's homes without formal permission or search warrants.
Police now use a form that's different from the standard APD incident report to document a party patrol bust. The form requires officers to list the grounds for the citation and whether consent was given to enter a residence.
Party patrol officials told the Journal in January 2006 that the unit does not, as a practice, enter a home without a warrant. Officers do regularly seek a warrant, but if one is not obtained, they wait outside until partygoers leave and then determine whether any laws have been broken.
The party patrol has stirred up controversy since its inception in 2001. There have been numerous complaints about the way its officers do business to the extent that the unit has made some adjustments.
For example, party patrol officers used to bust every underage kid at a given party, regardless of whether a teen was in possession of alcohol. That practice came to a halt in April 2006 after talks between APD and the city's American Civil Liberties Union affiliate. During the 2005 incident, officers surrounded the house after arriving between 11 p.m. and 11:45 p.m.
One of the people at the party opened the garage door to talk with officers. Family members and friends were playing pool in the garage.
At least three officers entered the home and at least two others went in the back, according to court documents.
"Officers ... entered the Roybal home through the back sliding glass door without consent of the homeowners. By this time, at least five APD officers were inside the kitchen-living room-dining area of Roybal's home," according to court documents.
The officers found liable were Yvonne Martinez, George Trujillo and Dennis Tafoya.
Kennedy said in a telephone interview that "our client clearly told her (Martinez) not to go inside."
Instead, Martinez entered and followed a partygoer who had gone upstairs to get her baby, Kennedy said.
"We denied liability," White said Friday, adding that the city's policy is never to settle police cases. "We try all police cases."
That stance troubles Kennedy, who said the city and the police department have never apologized to Roybal.
"We could have settled for far less," he said. But "the city wanted to take this to court."
Kennedy was unable to prove a second claim against the city: that the party patrol had a policy of routinely entering people's homes without search warrants.
"The burden of proof was on us," he said.
Kennedy was also unable to prove that Mary Roybal was wrongfully arrested for battery on an officer while she was complaining about Martinez being upstairs. The charge has since been dismissed.