Two finalists for East Palo Alto's police chief position are, or have been, the subjects of federal lawsuits, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court Northern District in San Jose.
San Francisco Capt. Albert Pardini, also up for the East Palo Alto job, was sued for violating a legal observer's civil rights during a demonstration, court documents showed.
A U.S. District Court judge has thrown out the first case against Ferrante, finding that Ferrante had just cause to arrest a murder suspect. The plaintiff in that case has filed a federal appeal.
That first lawsuit, filed March 5, 2010, alleges that Ferrante and another officer, Tom Morales, violated plaintiff Ramon Jose Vasquez's constitutional rights after they arrested him and he spent five months in Santa Clara County Jail for a murder he did not commit. The charges against Vasquez were dismissed two days before his preliminary hearing on Aug. 20, 2008, and he was declared factually innocent by a Superior Court judge on Feb. 23, 2010, according to court papers.
Vasquez was charged with the Feb. 2, 2008, murder of 18-year-old Rogelio Silva in the parking lot of an In-N-Out restaurant on Capitol Expressway in San Jose. One of the alleged Nortenos gang members shot the victim after a fight broke out between a large group of Mt. Pleasant High School students and a group of suspected Norteno gang members.
Two suspects were described as the alleged shooter and an instigator, and Vasquez was initially linked to the crime by witnesses who saw a white Charger he owned leave the scene. Two witnesses told police that he "looked like" the suspected shooter after being shown a photographic lineup, according to court papers.
The lawsuit claims that Vasquez did not fit the shooter's description in height or body build and that a tattoo on his neck that states "Thug Lord" was not a gang tattoo, which witnesses said the shooter had.
Other witnesses positively identified two other men in the lineups, and they were linked to the crime scene through their vehicles, physical descriptions and cell phone records, according to the lawsuit.
In a sworn statement for the arrest and search of Vasquez, Ferrante described Vasquez as a "documented associate" of a Norteno gang called Capitol Park Locos. The lawsuit alleges that Ferrante knew Vasquez was not a Norteno nor an associate of the gangs and that he fabricated that information to get a judge to sign the arrest warrant.
Vasquez was arrested and lost his job of seven years at the Coca Cola company, according to the lawsuit. Inmates threatened him with physical violence, and at one point, he was forced to drink toilet water when the plumbing broke for 24 hours. He became depressed and suicidal and was placed on medication, and his fiance and two children were forced to relocate after his arrest, according to the lawsuit.
But U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila didn't agree with the allegations. He dismissed the case, finding that Ferrante had probable cause based on Vasquez's car being placed near the scne, although it was driven by Vasquez's brother, and that Vasquez had been involved in a 2007 vandalism and assault incident during which the perpetrators allegedly shouted gang slogans.
The second case involving Ferrante was filed on Nov. 14, 2012, and names the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and several investigators, detectives and police officers as defendants. Plaintiffs Kevin and Danna Keifer filed a civil rights complaint after police raided and ransacked their San Jose business on a warrant for another address next door.
Ferrante was a member of a strike team for that incident.
The Keifers had rented a building they own to MediLeaf, a medical marijuana dispensary in Gilroy, which officers had raided after believing the dispensary's operations were illegal. The Keifers had no association with MediLeaf other than being its landlord, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit claims the DA's office was targeting landlords who dared to rent their buildings to medical marijuana dispensaries. The DA's office obtained a warrant for another MediLeaf location at 1340 Meridian Ave., San Jose, and listed Kevin Keifer in the warrant. But police raided the adjacent address at 1338 Meridian, and ransacked the premises despite being told they were at the wrong place. They arrested Kevin Keifer and held Danna Keifer for four hours until they obtained a valid search warrant. No criminal charges were filed against the Keifers. That case is ongoing in Superior Court.
Pardini was sued in federal and superior courts in 2001 and 2002 by a legal observer assigned to the National Lawyers Guild. The man was to observe a demonstration at a National Association of Broadcasters conference in San Francisco when police received an order from Pardini and another superior not to let the demonstrators or lawyers into the building.
The observer, Lawrence Hildes, was allegedly slammed into the ground and choked with a baton by officers under Pardini after arguing with one of the officers. He later passed out in his jail cell and was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, according to the lawsuits.
A judge dismissed the federal lawsuit in 2001 after the Hildes did not continue the case, and a superior court judge dismissed the second case in April 2003 after Hildes' attorney did not show up in court, according to court records.
Ferrante said he could not comment since the lawsuits are ongoing. Pardini could not be reached for comment.
Outgoing City Manager Magda Gonzalez will make the final choice for police chief. She was not available for comment. But Assistant City Manager Barbara Powell said she could not comment on the court cases, as the city does not have the information in its possession.
"However, prior to a police chief being appointed, the individual must go through an extensive vetting process pursuant to the Police Officers Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) requirements. The selected candidate is required to go through an extensive background investigation, a psychological examination and a physical examination.
"The background investigation would reveal any legal matters, and would also typically reveal the issues behind the legal matters, how they were resolved, etc.," she said in an email.
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