Couple Nets $20K After Suing County For Millions

Assistant District Attorney Kent Wahlquist, right, speaks with Juan M. Gonzales following his wife’s hearing last month in Magistrate Court in Los Alamos. Photo by Maire O’Neill/
Los Alamos Daily Post

Former Los Alamos residents Juan M. Gonzales and his wife Briana Dimick-Gonzales have received $20,000 from Los Alamos County in settlement of two lawsuits. The law suits were filed in October and December of 2015 in U.S. District Court and alleged civil rights violations.  

According to the settlement agreements, signed Jan. 31, Gonzales received a check for $10,000 in settlement of the first case and $5,000 for the second. Dimick-Gonzales received $5,000 in the second case.

Gonzales filed the first law suit against the Los Alamos County, Los Alamos Police Department and Sheriff, and LAPD officers Oliver Morris, Jason Wardlow Herrera, Brent Hudspeth and Oliver McCartney. It pertains to a May 2013 search of a room at a Bryce Avenue home where police alleged Gonzales was living. Police reports indicate that McCartney and Officer Jeremy Duran discovered a marijuana grinder and two pipes during the search, which all appeared to have marijuana residue on them.

An incident/investigation report by Morris indicated that police allegedly had reports of multiple “parties” at the address, where alcohol and marijuana were reportedly involved, and which were allegedly attended by young adults of high school age as well as juvenile runaways. Morris stated he had been advised by Ofc. Ben Hinrichs that he had “personally seen and observed a lot of vehicular traffic, young adults, and what appeared to be high school aged students frequent the residence at Bryce mostly in the evenings”. Hinrichs also said he “has heard what sounds like loud parties with music and voices”.

Morris recounted allegations in the report that Gonzales and other residents purchased alcoholic beverages, and that the minors that frequented the residence consumed alcohol there. He stated Duran was able to obtain a record of a utility payment made in late February by Gonzales for that residence.

Morris stated that May 8, 2013, he obtained a search warrant for the residence with night time authorization from then District Court Judge Sheri Raphaelson, and that he executed the warrant at around 10:30 p.m., May 17, 2013.

When Morris entered the residence, he allegedly found another individual named on the warrant and a juvenile in one of the bedrooms. He found two scales, two pipes with residue, a prescription pill bottle with two Xanax pills, and a single pill of Hydrocodone. The individual was placed under arrest and the juvenile was taken from the residence and released to her parents. A search of the room of another individual resulted in a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia, which was later dismissed.

In his complaint, Gonzales alleges there was no probable cause for the search. He states that he went to trial in Los Alamos Magistrate Court in September 2013, that the jury found him not guilty and that he “walked away an innocent man”. Gonzales also alleged that “this is not an isolated incident”. He said that in 2007, he called for paramedics for assistance due to an excruciating pain in his neck, police arrived before medical personnel and he said they harassed him, placed him in handcuffs, picked him up off the floor, forced him onto the couch, and searched his house. A brief report filed by then Ofc. Preston Ballew indicated Gonzales had called for an ambulance stating he couldn’t move and had never felt that pain before. The report states, “Plain view in house defendant admitted to smoking weed” and indicates that Gonzales was charged with possession of marijuana.

Gonzales went on to claim that he called police for assistance with a landlord Oct. 8, 2012, and that when officers arrived, he was charged with a crime, but that at trial, he again, “walked away an innocent man”. Police reports from that incident reflect a disagreement between Gonzales and his landlord who was his uncle, and that the landlord allegedly told police he felt threatened by his nephew and wanted to file charges against him.

Gonzales sought $10 million from each of the defendants in this first suit as well as attorney’s fees. He also demanded a jury trial.

Gonzales filed the second suit Dec. 21, 2015 and named LAPD/Sheriff’s departments, Police Chief Dino Sgambellone, Sgt. Monica Salazar, Cpl. Patrick Massara and officers David Boe, Sheldon Simpson and David Bradshaw. It concerns LAPD’s response to a 911 call Oct. 30, 2013, shortly after 11 p.m. at an apartment complex on San Ildefonso Road. Records of the 911 call note “a woman screaming for help”. LAPD incident reports indicate that Salazar, Massara, Simpson and Boe arrived simultaneously.

A court affidavit by Salazar states, “Mr. Gonzales appeared to be closing the front door on us while we were trying to ask him questions, so he was asked to come outside and speak to us. He refused and stated that we could not come inside his home.” Salazar goes on to say that she then placed her foot in the doorway to stop him from closing it and when Simpson, Boe and Salazar pushed it open, Gonzales allegedly yelled, “Get the (expletive) out of my house”, and made statements about suing the officers. Salazar’s affidavit says Gonzales’ then girlfriend was identified as Briana Dimick when she emerged from the back bedroom and that she noticed some red marks at the base of Dimick’s neck.

Gonzales’ lawsuit claims that before the officers knocked on the door, he and Dimick were love-making. He said he told her to go into the bedroom and get dressed. He alleges that to the best of his recollection, upon opening the door, he was “rushed onto the ground and placed in handcuffs”.  He said Dimick came out of the bedroom to see him being picked up off the floor by police officers and rushed out the door.

Salazar’s affidavit state she noted a marijuana odor masked by burning incense in the apartment and asked Dimick if she would rather speak outside on the porch. Salazar stated Dimick told her she did not want charges pressed. Salazar asked Dimick if the altercation between she and Gonzales had become violent and Dimick responded that she had a mark on her arm. Salazar asked Dimick to show her the mark and Dimick allegedly pulled up her sleeve and revealed red marks on her arm, stating that Gonzales had “grabbed her from there”.  Salazar stated that Dimick told her Gonzales “was very stressed out and this was part of the reason he had acted out”.

Salazar said she noticed many items strewn around the apartment and asked Dimick about it. “Ms. Dimick confirmed that Mr. Gonzales had indeed thrown several items against the wall. The affidavit says Salazar could hear Gonzales continuing to yell downstairs and that she asked Simpson to bring her a camera so that she could take photos of the red marks on Dimick’s arm in better lighting. She said Dimick had never mentioned to her that night that the physical contact between her and Gonzales had been consensual or part of their intimate relations.

Gonzales’ suit claims Dimick was escorted outside the apartment and asked by Salazar if photos could be taken, and that “in the presence of the assisting officers, and in the presence of all neighbors” she refused three times. He claims Salazar proceeded anyway, pulling up Dimick’s sleeves and demanding she look at the camera. He claims Salazar demanded Dimick “reveal certain areas of (her) body, which was uncomfortable and invasive” for her.

Gonzales claims Dimick was asked by Salazar if he had touched her and that Dimick had said he grabbed her on her arms, and before Dimick could “continue her truth and certainty of the situation’ Salazar cut her off and proceeded toward her fellow officers telling them to, “Take him away”. He claims Dimick made it known to Salazar “in an undertone voice, due to the overwhelming (sic) amount of male officers that he and Dimick were “actually in the process of having a sexual interaction” and that Salazar looked at her “with an impassive expression and rolled her eyes”.

Gonzales stated that he was crying when Massara and “unknown officers” forced him toward a patrol car and was told by them that if he continued crying, they would consider it resisting arrest. Gonzales claimed Dimick heard Massara ask him if he even knew how to spell his own name. He claimed Massara made statements to him while he prayed in the patrol car such as, “Why don’t you just light a candle?” and called him “a wife beater”.

Salazar’s affidavit says that after Gonzales was placed under arrest for battery on a household member, she explained to Dimick that once he was released from the detention center, he would not be permitted to have any contact with her until after his trial. Salazar said she asked Dimick if she had anywhere else to stay and Dimick indicated that she did not, so Salazar asked if they could take her to a hotel but she declined the offer saying that she needed to stay there.

Gonzales claimed that on arrival at the detention center, he was surrounded by the officers as he was escorted out of the vehicle. “An animal up for show after a successful hunt”, the suit states. He claims Massara “made sport” of his tears and that all officers had “chuckled” when Massara told them Gonzales had started praying in the car, and that he had told him to light a candle.

Massara’s affidavit says while being escorted to the patrol car, Gonzales started crying and tried to resist arrest saying that he was “arrested simply because he was a black man with a white woman”.  He said once Gonzales was in the patrol car, he began yelling and calling him “a racist Nazi”. “These verbal outbursts continued for the remainder of the transport and then he began praying out loud and calling the LAPD the devil”, Massara said. When the criminal complaint was ready to be served, Massara said he asked Salazar to be present due to the racist comments Gonzales had been making. He said after he was served, Gonzales became irate, yelling obscenities and racial accusations again.

Massara claims he never stalked Gonzales, or seized him, or conducted searches other than what was reasonably necessary to check for a person in the apartment. His affidavit states he never made racist comments in the apartment that night, never rushed him to the floor, and never hurt or mistreated him.

Gonzales claimed that while incarcerated he was forced to take a breathalyzer test and threatened with further incarceration. He also claimed that while incarcerated he was led to believe Dimick “had every intention of pressing charges”. He added that he felt “manipulated and confused” and that this was done to get a rise of emotion out of him, calling the situation, “a spectacle in a cage”.

Ofc. Bradshaw’s affidavit states that when Gonzales arrived at the detention center, he began the booking process and told Gonzales that due to the smell of alcohol on his person, he had to take a portable breathalyzer test to determine blood alcohol levels for safety reasons. Bradshaw said he told Gonzales if he refused, he would have to be taken to the hospital to get a medical clearance. He states that prior to releasing Gonzales, he called Dimick to inform her as is protocol in domestic violence situations.

Salazar’s affidavit states that after Gonzales was served with a criminal complaint at the detention center, he asked her why the officers had not heard his side of the story. She told him they had been willing to hear his side but that he had only yelled at them to get out of his house. She said Gonzales then asked to have photos taken of his torn t-shirt and a scratch on his torso. Ofc. Boe’s affidavit states that when he asked Gonzales why his t-shirt was torn, he responded, “None of your (expletive) business”.

Because Dimick had indicated she had nowhere else to go that night, Salazar said she and Massara went to Gonzales’ apartment when he was released to verify that Dimick was not there. Gonzales was already there and Salazar said she explained to him that they needed to check inside for Dimick. She said she and Massara left the apartment after verifying Dimick was not there.

Gonzales’ version of events differs substantially. He says he was able to post bond early the next morning and that officers followed the car belonging to friends who were driving him home. He said when they arrived at his home, other officers were lying in wait. He claims Massara, Salazar and another officer threatened him with further incarceration if he refused to allow them to search his home. He claims Massara grabbed his arm and aggressively forced his way into the apartment without a warrant of probable cause. He claims Massara searched his house “from top to bottom”, emptying out closets, flipping over mattresses, opening drawers and cabinets, and then patted him on the back as he left.

Ultimately, Gonzales’ allegations included no warrant or probable cause for the initial search. He claimed, “nonconsensual photos in the presence of all surrounding neighbors without proper invitation” caused humiliation and a “degraded reputation amongst the community, friends, and family”. He alleged Massara and Salazar deliberately stalked him and were lying in wait and that Massara conducted an unlawful search.

Gonzales accused other defendants in the suit of being willfully deliberate and in reckless disregard of his constitutional rights. He accused Los Alamos County of maintaining an official policy of “permitting its officers to deprive constitutional rights or ignore such actions by the police department.” He also claimed because of his loss of reputation amongst the community and family members, including his professional reputation, he had to seek employment and housing elsewhere. He asked for punitive damages of $20 million from each of the defendants and attorney’s fees and demanded a trial by jury.

Oct. 28, 2016, some 10 months after this second suit was filed, Assistant District Attorney Kent Wahlquist signed a notice of dismissal for the charges, stating that “the essential witness to this case, Briana Dimick has made it clear that she will not cooperate in the prosecution of the defendant and that the defendant never touched her in a nonconsensual manner. Without her cooperation in the prosecution of the defendant, there is not a reasonable likelihood of the State’s success at trial.”