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Tuesday, Feb 26 2013 12:02 AM

Local woman gets $25,000 settlement for damages during 2011 drug raid

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Darnell Oliver received a $25,000 settlement from the City of Tehachapi, as result of a 2011 drug search during which police officers damaged her home and property .Photo by Matthew Martz/Tehachapi News

A 64-year-old Tehachapi woman got the last word and a little bit of justice after she was arrested in a 2011 drug search during which police officers damaged her home and property.

Nearly a year after criminal charges were dropped without a trial, Darnell Oliver received $25,000 from the City of Tehachapi, which chose to settle the matter instead of taking it to court.

The city or police did not want to comment on the settlement, but Larry Peake, a Bakersfield attorney retained by the city to deal with the case, said the city determined it was in its best interest to resolve Oliver's claim without proceeding with further litigation.

"I am not in a position to advise as to the communications and considerations that went into the decision to settle this matter, " he said. "Due to the nature of those considerations."

In the meantime, Oliver said she was so was so put out by what police officers did during the ransacking of her home in the early morning raid on April 23, 2011, she wasn't about to back down. And even though she has had run-ins with law enforcement in the past, she said this time things were different and demanded the city pay her $23,000 in damages -- less than what the city ended up paying.

"When you know you're right; when you know you're innocent; you have to fight tooth and nail to make sure it gets made right," she said.

But even after receiving the money, Oliver said she feels like justice has only partially been served, and said the city or its police department has never admitted any wrongdoing.

"They gave me money to make me shut up and to make me go away, but I still have a bad reputation," she said. "They destroyed my property, and humiliated me in front of my neighbors and granddaughter."

Oliver also feels that she was targeted for no reason.

According to police records, the search warrant that was used to gain entry into Oliver's home was based on a controlled buy of 3.2 grams of methamphetamine at the trailer park where she lives. But no one witnessed Oliver actually selling drugs, nor did officers recover any illegal drugs during their search.

Yet it took the Kern County District Attorney's office nearly nine months to drop the charges against Oliver, who maintained her innocence throughout, even refusing to accept a plea deal.

Deputy D.A. Richard Harrold did nor provide details, but said the charges were dismissed against Oliver because of an evidentiary problem with the search warrant, which was obtained by Tehachapi Police officer Rick Disney, who along with officer Peter Graff conducted the search.

Graff and Disney filed suit against the city for $1.5 million each earlier this year, claiming threats of physical violence and mistreatment for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing within the department.

Had the city not settled with Oliver, just days before her Petition for Relief from a Tort Claims Act was to go before a Kern County Superior Court Judge on Dec. 21, 2012, it might have spent more to defend the action.

Earlier, Oliver and her attorney Craig Elkin turned down the city's initial offer of $8,000, which came as a surprise to them since the city rejected Oliver's original claim for damages back on March 8, 2012.

The city claimed she had failed to comply with strict time limits that parties can seek money from cities and other taxpayer-funded agencies -- generally within six months from the date of occurrence.

A statute of limitations that back in early December of 2012, Peake said had well been exceeded and if a lawsuit was ultimately allowed to be filed by the court, the city intended to vigorously defend against it.

But somehow all of that changed.

Meanwhile, Elkin claimed there was more than money at stake, and maintains his client's civil rights were clearly violated as police smashed windows, overturned furniture, slashed bedding, and frightened Oliver's teenage granddaughter who watched in terror as her grandmother was taken away by police.

So, while it appears the city has reconciled with Oliver, no one will address the question -- will this settlement have any effect on how its police department handles and executes searches going forward.

Elkin said the city, as well as its citizens, should know that its police officers will be held accountable.

"Our constitution was attacked here," he said. "If they got away with this, they would have done it again."

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