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Lawsuit returns against two officers

They're accused of unlawfully entering a home without a search warrant in 2007.

January 15, 2011|By Gretchen Meier, gretchen.meier@latimes.com

A federal appellate court on Tuesday revived a lawsuit against two Burbank police officers who allegedly entered a home in 2007 without a warrant.

In its ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the two officers had not been absolved of liability in the lawsuit, as a lower court had determined in throwing out the lawsuit against four officers.

In that decision, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California had thrown out the lawsuit against Officers Edmundo Zepeda, Chris Roberts, Fernando Munoz and then-Sgt. Darin Ryburn for illegally entering the home of Vincent Huff, a student at Bellarmine-Jefferson High School, on June 1, 2007.

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They were responding to a call from the school's principal, who said Vincent was going to "shoot up" the campus and had been absent for two days, according to court documents.

After speaking with two students and the principal, officers could not confirm the existence of a threatening letter and decided to visit the Huff residence, court records show.

Ryburn and Zepeda spoke with Vincent and his mother briefly outside the residence after the family failed to answer the door and hung up a phone call, according to court documents. The Huffs then refused to allow the officers into their home, and when asked whether there were any weapons in the house, the mother turned around and went inside without answering, according to court records.

Ryburn then followed the family into the home and Zepeda followed as backup. Roberts and Munoz entered the home soon after, but had been unable to hear the conversation between the officers and the family from their location on the sidewalk, according to court records.

The lower court had determined that all four officers were immune from the lawsuit since they acted reasonably to a possible eminent public safety threat, and so did not need a search warrant.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling for Roberts and Munoz — who were on the sidewalk and not privy to the interaction with the Huff family — but held that Ryburn and Zepeda should have known that no crime was committed or in progress at the Huff home and therefore should have secured a search warrant before entering.

The appellate court ruled that Ryburn and Zepeda did not have probable cause, were unable to confirm the existence of a gun in the home at any time and so were not entitled to immunity for their warrantless entry into the home.

Calls to attorneys for the officers and the family were not returned.

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