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Family sues Montgomery County police, saying they were ‘terrorized’ during no-knock warrant

A Silver Spring family, saying they were brutalized during a no-knock warrant, has filed a million-dollar federal lawsuit against the Montgomery County Police Department for what the family describes as a poorly drafted and violently executed early-morning search for the 20-something son of their basement apartment tenant.

The Palmas claimed in court papers filed Wednesday that officers raided their home at 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 13, 2019, and held a gun to Hernan Palma before punching him. The officers also handcuffed Palma; his wife, Lilian Palma; and their 13-year-old daughter, according to the complaint.

The officers had proceeded to arrest David Zelaya in the basement on suspicion of unlawful gun possession and illegal drug distribution. The Palmas were unaware of Zelaya’s presence, much less his alleged crimes, as they had rented their basement solely to Zelaya’s mother, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

“Montgomery County police terrorized an innocent family,” the complaint stated.

“The Palmas were not, and never have been, suspected of any wrongdoing,” the complaint added. “Instead, they were the victims of an over-zealous police force that was willing to make misleading omissions to the court and jeopardize innocent life…in order to capture a suspect they had been investigating for months, and whom they had passed up repeated opportunities to arrest away from the Palmas’ house.”

The family is being represented by the Washington law firms Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP and Caleb Andonian PLLC.

The MCPD and Montgomery County, which was also named as a defendant, declined to comment because of the pending litigation.

According to the complaint, the police department launched its investigation of Zelaya at least two months before executing the no-knock warrant. During that time, investigators repeatedly saw Zelaya entering and exiting through the basement door, while observing the Palmas enter their house through the front door, the complaint stated.

However, the MCPD’s no-knock warrant application expressly sought a search not just of the basement but of the entire home, despite the absence of probable cause to conduct such a broad search, the complaint added.

Hernan Palma, a Montgomery County firefighter, and his family have specifically alleged that the MCPD and its officers violated their federal and state constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and did so with excessive force. The Palmas are seeking punitive damages of at least $1 million, as well as compensation for economic costs and emotional pain resulting from the police action.

The Maryland General Assembly, amid concern with safety risks posed by no-knock warrants, enacted a law last month over Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto that permits the warrants to be issued only with the approval of the local police chief and state’s attorney, in addition to a judge. Also, no-knock warrants may only be executed between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., except in exigent circumstances.

The General Assembly acted following nationwide protests over the slaying in March 2020 of Breonna Taylor by Louisville, Kentucky, officers executing an overnight no-knock warrant at the Black woman’s apartment during a botched police raid.

The lawsuit is docketed in U.S. District Court as Hernan Palma et al. v. Montgomery County Police Department et al., No. 8:21-cv-01090-TJS.


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