Lawsuit: Deputies entered home without warrant, made unlawful arrests

A federal judge ruled against dismissing claims of false arrest and excessive force made against two Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office deputies stemming from a 2017 family disturbance.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane denied portions of a motion to dismiss the case, which four family members filed on May 2, 2019, against the county and deputies David Gonzalez and Jose Gonzalez nearly two years after the officers responded to their home.

Viviana Bautista, her grandmother Crescencia, and her mother and father, Hermelinda and Guadalupe, filed the litigation, complaining that when deputies David and Jose responded to their house on May 3, 2017 — after Viviana’s sister, Isamar Bautista, called 911 after an argument with her mother  —  they used excessive force when arresting a father and daughter.

The family also complains the deputies entered their residence without a warrant and wrongfully arrested them.

In his decision, Crane agreed on some points and disagreed with others, issuing several determinations impacting protections provided to David and Jose through qualified immunity, which shields officers from being held personally liable for constitutional violations. Both men are sued in their individual capacities.

Crane also dismissed all of the claims of excessive force and false arrest against Hidalgo County in his ruling.

On the night of the incident, Isamar, who is not a party to the lawsuit, called 9-1-1 at around 11 p.m. after an argument and scuffle with her sister, Viviana.

“During the course of the argument, Plaintiff Viviana placed herself physically between her sister and her mother. Isamar grabbed Plaintiff Viviana’s hair, pulling her down. Then, ‘[Plaintiff] Viviana held Isamar down by her shoulders until [Isamar] calmed down,'” Crane’s ruling stated. “After this, Plaintiff Guadalupe would not allow Isamar, his daughter, to leave the family home.”

Guadalupe never physically restrained Isamar, but Isamar felt she couldn’t leave home against his wishes without a police escort, according to the lawsuit.

When Jose and David arrived, Isamar told them she wanted to leave. Those deputies also noted blood near Isamar’s ear, which Isamar claimed was due to an ear infection. She stayed outside when the deputies entered the home without consent or a warrant, Crane said in the ruling.

Once inside the house, Jose spoke to Viviana, asking her what happened with her sister. Viviana told Jose that depended on what her sister said. Jose also told her to stop giving him attitude, according to the ruling.

That’s when Jose told Viviana to stand up and handcuffed her before he began “pushing her out the front door of the home.”

Over the next few minutes, the ruling describes how the situation escalates after Viviana’s father, Guadalupe, stands up and intends to ask what was happening when David pushed Guadalupe back down onto his seat on the couch.

“However, Plaintiff Guadalupe again stood up, and, additionally, put his hand on a Deputy Defendant Jose with the intent of getting the deputy’s attention,” the ruling stated. “Plaintiff Guadalupe then said that ‘[Plaintiff] Viviana [is] a female and that she should not be mistreated that way,'” the ruling stated.

Then, without saying anything, David knocked Guadalupe to the floor and Jose pushed Viviana out the door of the home before forcibly pushing 83-year-old Crescenia down, according to the ruling.

“At this point, Plaintiff Guadalupe ‘was already on the floor and controlled by by Deputy David Gonzalez,'” the ruling stated. “Then Deputy Defendant Jose ‘went after [Plaintiff] Guadalupe’ by pepper spraying Plaintiff Guadalupe in the face and eyes and kneeling on his back.”

Then David put Guadalupe in the back of his patrol unit and charged him with interfering with public duties and resisting arrest.

Hidalgo County court records show a jury acquitted Guadalupe on resisting arrest at trial and a judge dismissed the charge of interfering with public duties in the interest of justice at the request of the DA’s office.

Deputy Jose then pulled Viviana up from where she was laying outside and put her in a patrol vehicle.

Meanwhile, Guadalupe is screaming in the back of the patrol vehicle because of the pepper spray when his wife, Hermelinda, who has since died, approached the vehicle in an attempt to calm and comfort him, according to the lawsuit.

“Deputy Defendant Jose told Deputy Defendant David to arrest Hermelinda for interfering with public duties,” the ruling stated. “Deputy Defendant David followed Deputy Defendant Jose’s direction and restrained Hermelinda ‘with her arms up behind her back, despite her pleas to let her go, causing such pain that she ultimately fainted,'” the ruling stated.

While this is happening, Viviana taps on the patrol car window to get the deputies’ attention because she wanted to ask what was happening. Jose opens the door and Viviana places her legs outside when the deputy tells her she is interfering and threatened that if she didn’t put her legs back in the car she would be pepper sprayed.

“Plaintiff Viviana refused to place her legs back inside the patrol unit and Deputy Defendant Jose pepper sprayed Plaintiff Viviana in the face,” the ruling stated.

Viviana was ultimately charged with assault and interfering with an arrest. A jury acquitted her on both counts, court records show.

As for Hermelinda, she was taken to the hospital for treatment after fainting, according to the ruling. She ultimately was not charged at all, court records indicate.

A few days later, both Viviana and Cresencia complained of mistreatment to the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office’s Internal Affairs Divison, which determined it could not prove or disprove the allegations of police misconduct. During Guadalupe and Viviana’s jury trials, Jose testified that the county had taken no action against him due to their Internal Affairs complaint, the ruling stated.

In his ruling, Crane says that based on the allegations both deputies engaged in an unlawful warrantless entry in the Bautista’s home and unlawfully seized Viviana and Guadalupe inside.

“Thererfore, the Court finds the warrantless arrests of Plaintiffs Viviana and Guadalupe Bautista in the Bautista home, which the Deputy Defendants entered without consent, a warrant, or exigent circumstances, violated Plaintiffs’ clearly established rights,” Crane wrote. “Accordingly, the Deputy Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiffs’ unlawful seizure claims; Plaintiffs have stated claims of the unlawful seizure of Plaintiffs Viviana and Guadalupe Bautista upon which relief may be granted.

Crane also ruled that Jose has qualified immunity from Viviana’s false arrest claim and that both deputies have qualified immunity on Guadalupe’s false arrest claim.

The court, however, also says those arrests were unlawful seizures because of the unlawful entry of the residence while ruling that neither deputy is entitled to qualified immunity for Hermelinda’s arrest.

“Accordingly, at this stage in the litigation, the Court finds Deputy Defendant Jose Gonzalez is not entitled to qualified immunity of Plaintiff Viviana Bautista’s claim of excessive force arising rom Deputy Defendant Jose Gonzalez’s application of force that resulted in Plaintiff Viviana Bautista landing on the ground at the foot of the porch steps,” Crane wrote.

The federal judge in examining Jose’s decision to spray Viviana in the face with pepper spray while in the back of a patrol car said the choice could look like a mistake to an officer “with the 20/20 vision of hindsight,” but it was not so excessive that it was clearly unreasonable.

Crane dismissed that excessive force claim. The judge also dismissed Crescencia’s excessive force claim because she was never arrested.

“Therefore, Plaintiffs allege that Plaintiff Guadalupe Bautista’s injuries resulted directly and only from a use of force applied after Plaintiff Guadalupe Bautista was handcuffed and controlled,” Crane wrote. “The Court finds this use of force, as alleged, was clearly excessive, and the excessiveness of this force was clearly unreasonable.”

This excessive force claim against Jose survived the motion to dismiss.

As for Hermelinda’s excessive force claim, Crane ruled qualified immunity applies to David, but will allow Hermelinda to replead the claim.