A lawsuit filed Friday in federal court accuses top-level officers at the Oakland Police Department of orchestrating a conspiracy to cover up a bizarre and drunken Oakland hills home invasion committed by a rookie cop last year.
The incident in question took place on December 7, 2015 after Oakland cops reportedly spent an afternoon drinking at Monaghan’s Bar in Montclair. When they left, rookie officer Cullen Faeth wandered off and ended up at the home of Olga and Nemesio Cortez.
According to a claim filed by the Cortez family in February against the city, Faeth pounded on their front door and demanded entry, yelling “Open the fucking door.”
When Mr. Cortez cracked it, Faeth allegedly tried to force his way inside. The homeowner also says he was kicked in the stomach by Faeth when he went outside.
Ms. Cortez called the police, not knowing the the man attacking her husband was an off-duty cop.
According to the lawsuit, Ms. Cortez also saw a second man running near her house. He allegedly flashed a gun at her before disappearing. A neighbor’s security camera recorded a man fleeing the scene on foot.
Faeth also allegedly tackled Ms. Cortez — but, with the help of neighbors, they were able to pin the drunken officer to the ground until on-duty Oakland police arrived. Faeth reportedly smelled of alcohol and, according to the lawsuit, had a “glassy eyed, wild stare.” He was arrested at the scene.
The newly filed civil-rights suit offers more details about what allegedly happened later that night. It also claims there was a conspiracy among on-duty Oakland cops, including supervising officers, to withhold from the Cortez family that Faeth and the unidentified man were Oakland cops. OPD tried to downplay the seriousness of the incident, and to avoid having to charge Faeth, and possibly other officers.
For instance, attorneys for the Cortez family say that at 12:30 a.m., hours after Faeth was arrested, several OPD officers knocked on their door. The cops identified themselves as a captain, sergeant, and officer, but attorneys for the Cortez family haven’t been able to identify them yet. The lawsuit reads:
“The supervisors and officers separated the couple and attempted to convince Mr. and Mrs. Cortez that no crime had occurred. That same night, at around 3:00 a.m., another round of Supervisors and officers arrived to again try and convince the family that no criminal activity had occurred earlier. At no point during the two separate, late night visits to the Cortez house did anyone notify the family that their assailants were police officers.”
During the second visit at 3 a.m., five more Oakland cops again separated the husband and wife and asked them to recount and re-enact the events. According to the lawsuit:
“During Olga Cortez’s interview, officers were trying to get her to change her statement and relay the events in a way that would be more favorable to the man who was arrested. An officer tried to convince Olga Cortez to change her story and relay that the first man was simply knocking on the front door, instead of the reality that he was banging, rattling the door, pushing the door and demanding entry. The officer was also trying to get Olga Cortez to say that the first man simply knocked her over while falling down, instead of the reality that the man put both arms around her in a bear hug and knocked her to the ground.”
Also according to the suit, a neighbor who was parked outside the Cortez home witnessed an unidentified man run away from the scene. Neighbors speculated that this was the second officer who flashed the gun. Later that night, several OPD officers asked this same neighbor to identify a possible suspect. They drove him several blocks away and showed him a man who appeared to be “Middle Eastern,” and “did not even remotely resemble either of the men involved or described” in the home invasion, according to the lawsuit.
Days after the attack, Ms. Cortez claims that OPD Lt. Roland Holmgren told her that Faeth and the unidentified man were “only being silly and posed no threat to the family.”
Weeks later, Ms. Cortez heard rumors that her assailants were Oakland police officers. Holmgren eventually admitted to her the two men were police officers, claim attorneys for the Cortez family. The lieutenant reportedly told Ms. Cortez that Faeth and other cops mistakenly went to her house while looking for a party.
The couple claims that they were forced to hire attorney John Burris’ law firm to obtain a police report of the incident. When OPD finally produced one, it was mostly redacted, with only Faeth’s name disclosed. The identity of the second officer who brandished the gun was redacted, but he is believed to Sgt. Joseph Turner.
The lawsuit also names OPD police officers Trevor Stratton and Bryan Budgin, and claims that several cops drove a “getaway car” to take Turner away from the scene.
OPD has yet to identify any additional officers involved in the incident, but the department acknowledged to the Cortez attorneys that it placed Turner, Budgin, and Stratton on administrative leave after the incident.
The Alameda County district attorney filed misdemeanor battery, trespassing, and drunk-in-public charges against Faeth on April 7. The rookie officer, whose father is a sergeant in the department, pleaded not guilty to all charges. No other officers have been criminally charged for their roles.