SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A married couple claims in a federal lawsuit that drunken Oakland police officers showed up at their home late at night "looking for a party," attacked them, threatened them with a fake gun, then tried to make them "sanitize the story."
Nemesio and Olga Cortez sued the Oakland Police Department and five officers on Friday, on their own behalf and for their two young children who witnessed the fiasco.
The Cortezes say a "wild eyed" drunk, later identified as police Officer Cullen Faeth, banged on their front door and demanded entry to their home at 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 7, 2015.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cortez exited the house and attempted to detain the irate, intoxicated man, who then attacked the couple, grabbing and knocking Mrs. Cortez to the ground and kicking Mr. Cortez multiple times," the Cortezes say in the lawsuit.
Faeth grabbed the wife, who was wearing only a bathrobe, put her in bear hug and then knocked her onto the concrete, partially exposing her naked body, the couple say.
Another yet-to-be identified police officer then ran out from their backyard and threatened them with a "simulated gun underneath his shirt," before fleeing, according to the complaint. Meanwhile, Olga saw her children standing at the front door crying, "afraid for their and their mother's lives."
The man who threatened them with a fake gun got away, but the Cortezes say police know who he is and that witnesses saw him run up the road and talk to an officer in an Oakland police patrol car.
They say the man "leaned into the police car, appeared to speak to the officer and was then permitted to leave the crime scene."
The fleeing man got into a non-police vehicle that was occupied by one or more of three named defendants: Officers Trevor Straton, Bray Budgin and Sgt. Joe Turner, according to the complaint.
The husband says he managed to detain Faeth until police arrived, and that Faeth smelled like alcohol and had "a glassy eyed, wild stare," indicating he might also have been under the influence of drugs.
Police arrested Faeth and put him in a patrol car, whereupon he commenced "violently and repeatedly banging his head on the car window," which was caught on video, according to the complaint.
But it wasn't over yet, the Cortezes say.
Officers and supervisors returned to their home at 12:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. and "tried to convince them" that "no crime had occurred," according to the 14-page complaint.
During two rounds of questioning, officers separated the couple and tried to get Olga Cortez to change her story and say that Faeth was "simply knocking on the front door," instead of banging, rattling and pushing the door while demanding entry. They also asked her to say that Faeth "simply knocked her over while falling down," rather than putting her in a bear hug and throwing her to the ground, according to the complaint.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cortez felt violated when asked to recreate the terrifying experience and confused by the officers' attempting to get them to sanitize their story. The officers would not answer any questions about the suspect," the complaint states.
Officers also asked a neighbor's minor child, who was sitting in a parked car during the incident, to identify a Middle Eastern man as the suspect who threatened the couple with a fake gun, even though that man "did not even remotely resemble either of the men involved or described," the Cortezes say.
In the succeeding weeks, police refused to give them information about the investigation, the couple says.
Olga Cortez said she called police to ask about who was involved after she heard that the men might be police officers. She says police Lt. Ronald Holmgren told her the two men were Oakland police officers who "mistakenly went to her house," looking for a party.
She says Holmgren brushed off her complaint that her family felt terrorized and violated, telling her the officers were "just being silly," and promising they would get an apology, which they did not.
When their attorney demanded an official response, the Oakland PD released a police report with all of the officers' identities blacked out except for Faeth. The family says all four men were Oakland police officers.
Four defendants — Cullen Faeth, Trevor Stratton, Bryan Budgin and Sgt. Joe Turner — have been placed on paid leave, according to the complaint.
Lt. Holmgren is also named as a defendant.
Nemesio Cortez says he suffered stomach injuries and had to get hernia surgery. Olga suffered bruises from being grabbed and thrown to the ground. The family has sought professional counseling, and the children suffer from nightmares and are afraid of being in their home.
They seek punitive damages for conspiracy to violate their civil rights, battery, negligence and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, plus medical expenses, lost wages and costs of suit.
They are represented by civil rights attorney John Burris, who also represented plaintiffs in the landmark "Riders" case, Allen v. Oakland. In that case, a federal judge appointed an independent monitor to ensure the Oakland PD implemented court-ordered reforms, many of which the city is still working on more than 16 years later.
The Oakland Police Department and Oakland City Attorney's Office did not immediately return phone calls and emails seeking comment Monday.Follow @NicholasIovino
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