Orange County jurors awarded the owner of a Garden Grove auto body shop more than $1 million in damages after deciding that law enforcement officers raided the store without a warrant, a lawyer said Wednesday.
Jurors concluded that the team of officers conspired to violate Merritt L. Sharp Sr.'s civil rights when it burst into his shop in June 1997 in a search for drugs, said Sharp’s attorney, Jerry L. Steering.
The officers acted on a tip from an informant who told them that Sharp’s son, a parolee, was operating a methamphetamine lab from the store, Steering said.
Officers had the authority to search a parolee’s home, but Steering argued in court that searching the auto body store would have required a warrant, the Newport Beach attorney said.
Officers from the Garden Grove Police Department, the state Department of Corrections and the California Highway Patrol detained Sharp at gunpoint for 45 minutes as they ransacked the store and found methamphetamine in the son’s possession, Steering said.
Sharp, 59, has suffered from nightmares since the raid that injured his knee, the attorney said.
“If they had walked in and arrested the son and asked the dad permission to search the shop, he would have given it to them,” Steering said. “But they didn’t. . . . They demeaned him.”
A unanimous jury awarded Sharp $1 million in compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages.
Garden Grove Police Capt. Dave Abrecht said the city’s officers believed that state parole agents, who led the raid, had justification to search the shop. He said Garden Grove will likely appeal the verdict.
“We’re supporting our officers,” he said. “We don’t think that they did anything wrong, and we don’t think that this case is over yet.”