Monday, March 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Detective Is on the Hook for Way-Off Warrant

(CN) - A California couple can sue the detective whose faulty warrant set off an early morning SWAT team search of their home for their already incarcerated son, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.

Santa Maria Police Department Detective Louis Tanore and others figured that Javier Bravo Jr. had been one of several suspected gang members who stashed weapons used in a 2006 drive-by shooting in Santa Barbara County. Based on tips from witnesses, Tanore got a warrant to search the home of Bravo's parents, Hope and Javier Bravo Sr., which was listed as the younger Bravo's residence.

Though the affidavit supporting the warrant included Javier Jr.'s rap sheet and noted that he had spent the last six months in prison serving out a two-year sentence for receiving stolen property, the SWAT raid went ahead as planned. The team showed up at 5:30 a.m. with flash-bang grenades, burst into the home and pointed their weapons at the Bravos and their 8-year-old grandson, who ran screaming into the bathroom, the ruling states. The officers left after Hope Bravo showed them a recent letter from her son, mailed from prison.

The Bravos sued Santa Maria, Santa Barbara County and several individual officers and officials, alleging that the raid had violated their Fourth Amendment rights because it had been based on a false warrant. The couple settled with some of the defendants, and the District Court granted summary judgment to the remaining city and county defendants, including Detective Tanore.

U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper found Javier Jr.'s incarceration immaterial to the raid and saw no evidence of recklessness, intentional or otherwise, on the part of Tanore.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit in Pasadena reversed unanimously on Friday.

Rather than being immaterial, the custody issue is indispensable to whether the raid violated the Bravo's rights, the panel found. Without sufficient proof that Bravo Jr. resided in the home, the SWAT team had no probable cause to serve the warrant.

"Tanore had no evidence that Mr. and Mrs. Bravo or E.B. were involved in the April 21 shooting or that during a period in which Javier Jr. was not residing in their home they would have assisted Tangas gang members in concealing evidence, and specifically in concealing evidence from the shooting," Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote for the panel. "The generalized statements in the affidavit that it is 'common' for families of gang members to assist other members of the gang are insufficient to support probable cause to search the Bravos' home."

"Tanore had no evidence that Mr. and Mrs. Bravo or E.B. were gang members of any kind," he added. "Probable cause to search broadly for any and all guns, ammunition, and indicia of gang affiliation therefore was predicated entirely on Javier Jr.'s own suspected involvement in hiding weapons for other gang members." (Emphasis in original.)

The federal appeals court also found plenty of evidence in the record to suggest that Tanore's "reckless disregard for the truth" led to the faulty warrant.

In his testimony, for example, Tanore said that he "reviewed Javier Jr.'s rap sheet in preparing the affidavit, and though he could not recall with certainty whether he had observed Javier Jr.'s two-year sentence, imposed on September 9, 2005, he acknowledged that he may have," the ruling states.

"Given the importance of the custody status to the finding of probable cause for the search and to the justification for nighttime service," Hawkins concluded, "a reasonable jury could conclude that Tanore's failure to mention Javier Jr.'s two-year sentence or to follow up and inquire about Javier Jr.'s custody status amounted to at least reckless disregard for the truth."

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.