Olga and Nemesio Cortez sued the city and five police officers in October 2016. The couple said police tried to make them change their story to protect two inebriated officers, including one who allegedly assaulted them in front of their children.
The Oakland City Council approved settlement in a 7-1 vote on Tuesday. Councilmember Abel Guillén voted against the deal, according to the Oakland City Clerk’s Office.
The Cortezes claimed off-duty officer Cullen Faeth showed up to their home “drunk and wild-eyed” on the night of Dec. 7, 2015, violently banging on their door and demanding entry. When the Cortezes exited the house to stop him, Faeth “attacked the couple, grabbing and knocking Mrs. Cortez to the ground and kicking Mr. Cortez multiple times,” according to the lawsuit.
Faeth grabbed Mrs. Cortez, who was wearing only a bathrobe, put her in bear hug and knocked her onto the concrete – partially exposing her naked body, according to the complaint.
Another off-duty officer, later identified as former Sgt. Joe Turner, ran from the backyard and threatened the couple with a “simulated gun underneath his shirt” before fleeing, according to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the couple said their children were standing at the front door crying, “afraid for their and their mother’s lives.” The Cortezes said they had to seek professional counseling because their children suffered nightmares and were afraid of being in their home.
The couple said officers later visited their home twice that night, trying to get them to change their story and say Faeth was “simply knocking on the front door” rather than banging and rattling it, and that he “simply knocked [Ms. Cortez] over while falling down,” even though he placed her in a bear hug and threw her to the ground.
The complaint also named officers Trevor Straton and Bray Budgin as accomplices who helped Turner flee the scene in a police car that night. The lawsuit further accused Lt. Ronald Holmgren of impeding the investigation and trying to sweep the incident under the rug.
The police department disciplined four officers who were involved in the incident, according to the Cortez’s attorney, Melissa Nold of the John Burris law firm.
Turner was demoted and lost his rank as sergeant. Faeth and Straton were fired, and Budgin faces termination for an unrelated DUI arrest in September 2017.
Faeth was charged with assault, trespassing, and public intoxication in the December 2015 incident. He reached a plea deal in early March and will serve three years’ probation and pay fines and restitution, according to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
To avoid litigation like this in the future, Nold said the Oakland Police Department needs to be more transparent, especially when it comes to officers suspected of criminal wrongdoing.
“We had a very difficult time obtaining even the most basic information,” Nold said in a phone interview earlier this month. “There was a significant lack of transparency here, which is why we got involved to begin with.”
Nold said she believes the $35,000 settlement is fair, given that the city terminated and disciplined officers involved in the incident.
The settlement comes less than three months after an internal audit faulted the police department for failing to properly vet recruits, many of whom were rejected by other police departments. Nold said the failure to properly screen new officers can be a factor that leads to incidents like this.
“If they’re lowering their standards because of staffing needs, it creates a situation where you have people less qualified or less desirable candidates getting put into the department,” Nold said.
The civil rights attorney said her clients are happy to resolve the lawsuit and “get back to their lives.”
The Oakland Police Department declined to comment, and the Oakland City Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Friday.