ROCKVILLE, Md. - A Montgomery County firefighter is suing the county and police department over a "no knock" warrant and raid that attorneys say, "terrorized an innocent family."
Attorneys representing the Palma family filed suit on Wednesday naming several Montgomery County members, including the police chief. They allege Hernan Palma, his wife and 14-year-old daughter were subject to "an illegal and unreasonable seizure" with excessive force in September of 2019.
The family says they were abruptly awoken at around 4:30 in the morning. Hernan Palma, who attorneys say is a long-time count firefighter, thought someone was breaking in. The lawsuit says police pushed a rifle into Palma’s chest, punched him and slammed him into a wall so hard, his face cracked that wall. Attorneys say his wife and daughter were handcuffed and their home ransacked.
"…the amount of force that was used to executive this warrant, was inappropriate, it should’ve never been done. And the fact that there wasn’t even a policy in place at the time that this happened to govern how these no knock warrants was executed was problematic. So the message should be that no family should have to go through what the Palmas went through," said Attorney Joseph Caleb, who also told FOX 5 the family is still traumatized and feels "helpless."
The lawsuit alleges that county police omitted important information to obtain that "no knock" warrant. They were apparently looking for a 22-year-old suspect on drug and firearm-related charges. Attorneys say the suspect, apparently unbeknownst to the Palma family, was staying with his mother in the separate basement apartment at the Palma family’s Wheaton-area home. The Palma family rented the space to the suspect’s mother, the complaint says.
According to the lawsuit, police had monitored the suspect for at least a month, observing him move in and out of the basement entrance. But the home was identified as a "single-family dwelling" in the warrant. Lawyers also say probable cause to connect the Hernan Palma to the suspect was not given.
Hernan and his wife were not available for interview on Thursday. Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando told FOX 5 he spoke with the family as his constituents about a year ago.
"They were hurt. They were angry. They were upset. And you know, this- the gentleman has been a firefighter, I think for over 10-years. And has a wife who was sick and had a daughter – a teenager who was also involved, and it’s just a very, scary, scary incident," said Jawando.
The councilmember was the main driver of county police reform legislation over the summer, which included a ban passed on "no knock" warrants that involve non-violent, drug offenses. Jawando preferred "no knock warrants" to be banned all together, saying they are not safe for both the community and police. Not commenting on this case specifically, he referred to previous county "no knock" policy as "collateral damage of our poor policy."
After the raid, attorneys say Hernan Palma still went to work, attending an event that involved police.
"Mr. Palma is a man of service. Mr. Palma takes great pride in the work that he does as a civil servant. One thing that is interesting is that Mr. Palma has in the past, and presently, worked side-by-side with police, right? And it just so happens that in this instance, police weren’t willing to work with him," said Attorney Joseph Caleb.
The family’s attorney also accused the officers involved of not properly following police body-worn camera policy, not turning-on a BWC until after the raid and abruptly turning-off a camera less than 10-minutes after.
FOX 5 DC reached-out to the county and police for response and was told neither could comment due to pending litigation.