A recently filed lawsuit claims a Gresham police officer assisted a domestic-violence offender in removing marital property from his former residence against the wishes of the abuse survivor, a situation exacerbated by the officer owning the home in question.
Filed on April 17 by Blanca Botello against Officer Clifford Hoecker, the city of Gresham and Gresham Police Department, the lawsuit states the parties violated Blanca's Fourth and 14th Amendment rights by entering her home as an officer without consent, a warrant or court order, and seized property without a notice, hearing or other form of legal process.
Following its policy, the city declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.
The plaintiff and her husband, Miguel Botello, rented a house from Hoecker and his wife in the 1800 block of Southeast Hale Street. In the lawsuit, Miguel is said to have a social relationship with Officer Hoecker, including regular recreational firearm practices.
Last November, Miguel was arrested for assaulting his wife in front of their two children. He was taken into custody by Gresham Police officers and prosecuted for harassment constituting domestic violence. The incident prompted Blanca to file a restraining order against him, prohibiting him from coming within 150 feet of the plaintiff or the home. The court also required Miguel surrender his firearms, with officers removing a gun safe containing the guns from the home at Blanca's request. Miguel was allowed to retrieve some essential personal items from the house that month.
Following the restraining order, Miguel had his name removed from the rental agreement of the Hale Street home. Hoecker and his wife sent Blanca a notice terminating the rental agreement, which went into effect in February. Blanca filed for a divorce on Dec. 3, which caused a statutory order that prevented either party from transferring or disposing of marital property.
On Dec. 22, Miguel asked Gresham police for a civil standby call — when an officer oversees interactions to maintain the peace — to allow him to remove more of his property. Hoecker, who was on duty at the time, responded to the call. The department has a policy of not requiring a court order for a civil standby, and there is no limit to the number of them officers will assist with.
Miguel brought several of his family members with him and Hoecker to the home. According to the lawsuit, no one contacted Blanca before arriving at the house, which violated Oregon law requiring that a landlord provide at least 24 hours' notice before entering a rental property.
The lawsuit said Blanca was surprised to see her landlord at the door, in uniform, accompanied by her estranged husband and his family. The plaintiff protested what was happening, explicitly denying Hoecker permission to enter. She informed him about the restraining order, that her estranged husband had already picked up his personal property in November and that there was a pending divorce that prevented distribution of marital property. She also stated she did not want Hoecker to assist with the standby because he was her landlord.
The Gresham Police Department has a policy regarding civil standby that states, "If the petitioner is uncooperative, the respondent will be instructed to seek private legal advice and obtain a court order to obtain the desired personal effects, and the respondent will be asked to leave the scene."
The lawsuit states Hoecker informed the plaintiff she could not prevent him from entering the home.
Miguel's family began loading several things from the garage into a truck, including tools and electronics. Miguel also removed several items, including more electronic equipment and the security system. When he attempted to locate the gun safe, which had been removed by Gresham officers at Blanca's request, Hoecker allegedly demanded to know where it was. Hoecker asked Blanca to provide a receipt proving the department removed the gun safe. The plaintiff was frightened by his conduct, because it appeared to her the officer was helping Miguel find firearms he was prohibited from accessing.
When Blanca called the police department to ask for assistance, Hoecker allegedly told her to calm down and said she was being "(expletive) impossible." The lawsuit then said he laughed at her. The plaintiff's children were present throughout the incident, including when Hoecker swore and laughed at her.
Eventually, more officers arrived at the home, and Miguel and his family left with numerous items. Gresham Police Sgt. Tom Walker, Hoecker's supervisor, informed the plaintiff that Hoecker was "a fine officer."
In addition to the lawsuit, Blanca filed a complaint with the department. An investigation concluded he did not violate policy by allowing Miguel to retrieve items from the home. It did determine Hoecker was unprofessional when he cursed and laughed at the plaintiff, but that "the swearing and chuckling were minor."
Blanca is now worried the Gresham Police Department will not help her if Miguel violates the restraining order.
The lawsuit's prayer for relief includes a declaration that Hoecker's actions violated the plaintiff's rights; changes to the department's policies and practices regarding civil standbys; an award of compensatory damages and punitive damages against Hoecker; and an award of reasonable attorney fees to the plaintiff.
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