WASHINGTON, DC—Hernán Palma, Lillian Palma, and their minor daughter, filed a complaint today in federal court against the Montgomery County Police Department (“MCPD”) for an illegal no-knock search of their home.
The Palmas live modestly in the Washington, DC suburbs and rented out a basement apartment in their home to supplement Hernán’s salary as a Montgomery County firefighter. They were not, and have never been, suspected of any wrongdoing.
In 2019, the Palmas rented their basement apartment to a tenant whose adult son sometimes stayed over. That son became the target of an extensive MCPD investigation. A no knock warrant was subsequently issued. In the warrant application, MCPD omitted the fact that the innocent Palma family lived upstairs, whereas the suspect used a basement entrance—information the court should have been able to evaluate when deciding whether to issue the warrant.
On September 13, 2019, the MCPD executed a military-style SWAT raid of the Palmas’ entire home to arrest the son of their downstairs tenant. During the early-morning raid, MCPD violently beat Hernán, used excessive force against Lillian and their young daughter, and caused what MCPD described as an “extreme amount of damage” to the Palmas’ home.
“The Palmas were denied their constitutional rights by an overzealous police force,” said Thomas Connolly of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP. “In filing this complaint, we hope to ensure that families in Montgomery County can rest assured that MCPD will properly train its officers on warrant applications and that no-knock warrants are treated as the law demands—as a rare exception and not the norm.”
“MCPD’s conduct was the result of poor training and the absence of policy for one of the most dangerous and deadly police activities available to the police force,” said Joseph Caleb.
The MCPD has recently come under scrutiny for excessive use of no-knock warrants. Of the 140 search warrants executed by Montgomery County SWAT teams in 2019, 108—or more than 77%—were no-knock warrants. In 2020, the Montgomery County Council unanimously voted, and the County Executive signed into law, a bill limiting the use of no-knock warrants to crimes of violence.