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Scotts Valley
May 19, 2024
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Illegal Search Lawsuit Against SVPD Officers Moves Toward Settlement

Officers from the Scotts Valley Police Department and Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office are set to discuss terms of a possible settlement with a man who says he was pulled over and searched illegally.

Darin Matthews says he never gave law enforcement permission to go through his car or belongings during the Feb. 19, 2019 incident on his way to his administrative job at UCSC.

And they didn’t have a warrant that allowed them to conduct such action.

Almost three years later, on Feb. 10, SVPD defendants Wayne Belville, Michael Birley, Michael Neronde and Paul Lopez demanded a jury trial in the U.S. Northern District of California.

But, within a week, Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler had set a settlement conference.

In an email to the Press Banner, Matthews confirmed he is considering settling the case but adds it could still go to trial.

“The most important thing to me is the truth, which they are unwilling to share,” he said. “I would like to know who said what to S.C. County Sheriff about drug activity at my home. There was simply no illegal activity going on, so I would like to know: Who fabricated a story to get a search warrant?”

The filing on behalf of the SVPD officers by attorneys Mika J. Frisk and Michael C. Wenzel, of San Francisco-based law firm Bertrand, Fox, Elliot, Osman & Wenzel, points out that the City of Scotts Valley is no longer technically a defendant in the action, due to the prior ruling that allowed the case to proceed.

But that decision allowed Matthews to pursue Santa Cruz County for damages based on the conduct of their employee, under what’s called a Monell claim (named after a 1978 case brought against New York’s Department of Social Services).

The SVPD officers, in their filing, confirmed that Deputy Steven Carney did, in fact, search Matthews’ vehicle, but say the plaintiff gave him consent. The Scotts Valley officers want Matthews to pay their legal fees.

The search of Matthews’ vehicle (for which they didn’t have a warrant) and of his home (for which they did) didn’t turn anything illegal up, and Matthews was never charged with a crime.

Matthews says he has friends who work in law enforcement, and he knows it’s not easy to get a search warrant.

“Someone has to witness criminal activity occurring and swear to it, either seeing a drug purchase happen or buying drugs themselves,” he said, adding an explanation he was given for the investigation is there was a lot of activity in and out of his home, “which is not a crime the last I checked.”

Matthews, who is white, thinks someone may have made an assumption about guests of his, who were not.

“I did have several Hispanic friends visit and stay with me, and some of them had neck tattoos,” he said. “They are all great people that are hard-working and responsible citizens, which is why I welcomed them in my home.”

Police say they pulled Matthews over because he had paper plates. Matthews says they were perfectly legal.

Several days after the incident, Matthews wrote to the judge that issued the search warrant for his residence.

In a letter dated March 13, 2019, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge John Gallagher wrote back, emphasizing he hadn’t given permission for police to search Matthews’ car.

“I am mindful of my role in seeing that the protections against unreasonable searches and seizures are properly implemented under the State and Federal Constitution and the case law,” Judge Gallagher wrote. “The warrant which I approved, did not include a request to stop your vehicle, search it, or to detain you. There are additional constitutional protections related to that police activity. You may want to consider contacting an attorney to review your rights with respect to that activity and, depending on what you learn, consider filing a complaint with the Sheriff’s Department regarding that contact.”

Matthews’ lawyer, Kathleen E. Wells, has told the Press Banner officers appeared to be trying to connect her client to a drug bust in Las Vegas.

A records check by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, completed April 14, 2019, confirmed Matthews had never been convicted of any felonies or misdemeanors there—or even arrested.

Matthews’ public records request to SVPD resulted in an incident report that confirmed the agency was only assisting the Sheriff’s Office.

Now the parties are scheduled to talk about settling the matter on May 24 at 1:30pm.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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