In a claim filed against Mono County, attorney Allen Berrey says in July his client was “unconstitutionally and unlawfully seized, searched, arrested and jailed by two Mono County Sheriff’s officers – a sergeant and a deputy – in a way that made him feel as if he had been baited, hunted and trapped for no legitimate reason.” The claim alleges violations of civil rights, fabrication of evidence, false arrest and imprisonment and violation of Fourth and Second Amendment rights. Sheriff Ralph Obenberger has declined to comment. The District Attorney did file a misdemeanor allegation of carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle.
Attorney Berrey filed a Statement of Facts supporting the claim for Youssef Boulaalam, a US citizen and resident of Cardiff By The Sea, who was on a hiking, camping, fishing and target-shooting trip through several states. The statement says the dash-cam DVD from the Sheriff’s car revealed much, but not all, of what happened to his client in the Bridgeport area. The claim alleges that Sheriff Sergeant Rick Hahn and Deputy Art Torres followed Mr. Boulaalam from Travertine Hot Springs, a popular camping and sightseeing spot south of Bridgeport.
The claim says the Mono Sheriff’s patrol car passed him, did a U-turn and “began tailgating him.” According to the claim, Mr. Boulaalam was scared by the patrol car which followed him onto Highway 395. Boulaalam was uncertain of the speed limit so continued at 45 miles per hour until he saw a speed sign. Finally the patrol car’s overhead lights went on and the man was pulled over.
According to the claim, when Boulaalam was stopped he explained to the deputy that the way the officers had tailgated him and then followed him onto the highway had “made him scared and nervous, that he was distracted and didn’t want to exceed the speed limit for fear of being pulled over for something he had not done.” The claim says the deputy conducted virtually no investigation of sobriety.
The claim alleges the officers stopped the man on a sobriety issue but really wanted to search his car for guns. The crime report quotes one of the officers as saying, “While speaking with Boulaalam I determined he was not under the influence.” But the incident did not stop there. When asked if he had any firearms, Boulaalam told the officer about a rifle under a seat. The claim says the DVD recorded the officer saying, “Here’s my thing: all these guys that camp, you know they’ve got guns or something on ’em.”
Attorney Berrey said after his client told them about it, the officers also found a hand gun with a loaded clip. The claim says Boulaalam told the Sergeant the gun was in a back pack. They arrested Boulaalam for possession of a loaded firearm in public, a misdemeanor. The claim alleges the officers lied about several details in the chain of events.
Mr. Boulaalam said he told the officers the gun belonged to his boss who had accompanied him on part of the trip. The claim says the deputies staged the location of the evidence in the car and took pictures of it – with the handgun sticking out in plain sight instead of in a back pack.
The District Attorney later filed a misdemeanor complaint against Mr. Boulaalam, alleging he unlawfully carried a loaded firearm in a vehicle. Attorney Berrey filed motions to suppress what he says is unconstitutionally obtained evidence. That motion is scheduled to be heard February 24th.
Sheriff Obenberger said he would not make any comment.