A Maryland firefighter filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against police, claiming his family was terrorized during a botched no-knock warrant in 2019.
The lawsuit claims the raid was botched by officers who knew the man they were after lived in the basement of the firefighter’s Silver Spring home.
Hernan Palma; his wife, Lillian; and his 13-year-old daughter were asleep when a team of Montgomery County tactical officers barged into their home.
According to the lawsuit filed in federal court, “At first, Hernan thought that robbers had broken into his home and were going to harm his family. He repeatedly asked the intruders who they were and what they were doing in his home, but they would not answer. One of the men pushed a long gun into Hernan’s chest. Another punched him in the face.”
The lawsuit also says, “Eventually, one officer acknowledged MCPD’s awareness that the Palmas lived upstairs in a separate part of the house, telling Hernan, ‘You should be more careful who you rent your basement to.’”
The family’s attorney, Joseph Caleb, said police should have known the man they were after lived in a separate residence in the home.
“It’s just obvious that what the police did that day when they searched, when they essentially raided the Palma’s house with guns drawn and assaulted an innocent family, was unnecessary,” he said. “There’s no excuse for what they did, and, in fact, all of their investigation ahead of time in advance of the raid revealed that it was just unnecessary for them to even go into the Palma’s portion of the house.”
Caleb said the no-knock warrant was unnecessary since police had done surveillance on the basement for days leading up to the raid, and according to a document News4 found in this case, police even said the family was blameless.
The statement of charges against the man the police were after, David Zelaya, says, he was “using the residence of an innocent family who ended up suffering minor injuries and financial hardships during the raid.”
Palma, his wife and his daughter say they were held in handcuffs for more than an hour before police let them go.
Zelaya lived with his mother in the basement. He pled guilty to drug charges and is serving time in prison.
Because of the pending litigation, police declined to comment on the family's allegations.