$5M lawsuit against Sunnyside police, city alleges ongoing family harassment
SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- A Sunnyside family has sued the city and police department for $5 million, claiming they have been harassed and wrongfully targeted by officers for years and now fear for their lives.
Noel Santana and his family filed a lawsuit in August against Sunnyside and the Sunnyside Police Department (SPD). They name chief Al Escalera and six officers in the suit and said their civil rights have been abused.
Two particular incidents in August 2013 were highlighted in the lawsuit.
The family said a SWAT team executed a search warrant to retrieve a reportedly stolen laptop and Santana was wrongfully arrested and later released with no charges.
SPD declined to comment and referred Action News to city manager Don Day.
"They did retrieve this laptop that they were looking for as well as some weapons," said Day. "And I don't know about any arrests - I just don't have any details yet."
In fact, Day said the city hasn't been served yet and he had to seek a copy of the lawsuit.
The family alleges they have been threatened and harassed by police for years; followed by police cars and officers who have trespassed onto their property and caused damage.
The suit said a flash grenade went off and rifles were drawn during the SWAT incident, which caused them fear of serious bodily harm. The family cited "emotional distress, annoyance, anxiety, frustration, depression, and related emotional distress injuries" from ongoing police surveillance.
Action News reporter Ariella Toren asked Day for his response to that allegation.
"Well, I don't believe that's correct," said Day. "The police department doesn't target anybody other than criminals."
Day said arrests are made when there is probable cause. However, the suit alleges there was no probable cause in Santana's arrest. The family also claimed no crimes have happened that justify police harassment.
Action News wasn't able to reach Sandlin Law Firm in Zillah for comment, which is representing the family.
Day said he is waiting for more information to come to light.
"We need to look at facts, and that's really where we're at," said Day. "We just don't know any facts. We don't have any details."
The 18-page lawsuit claims SPD has created an environment of hostility and oppression for the Santana family. It also says the city is liable for the misconduct of its employees.
The Santana family has demanded a jury trial for the case. Day said the city will be represented by two attorneys through its insurance.