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Officers Dismissed as Defendants in Tortilla Factory Lawsuit

Officers Dismissed as Defendants in Tortilla Factory Lawsuit



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A federal judge has dismissed individual officers as defendants in a lawsuit over the 1997 raid at the Panaderia La Diana tortilla factory, bakery and restaurant.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell was made public Monday. The city remains a defendant in the suit which is set for trial beginning Nov. 29.

The lawsuit by owners, employees and customers of the facility alleges there was no justification for the April 24, 1997, raid by city police, backed by agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and area agencies.

About 75 officers kicked down the unlocked doors, pointed guns at customers and searched the premises for drugs.

About 80 people were ordered to the floor, handcuffed and held for up to three hours. One of the issues to be considered by the jury is whether holding them that long was reasonable.

The lawsuit alleges that police had no evidence of crime at the tortilla factory, and the cause for suspicion was that the owner and most of the customers were Latino.

Police got a search warrant based on undercover drug buys in the parking lot, the purchase of a prescription drug inside the store and the word of informants that street drugs were being handled inside the business.

A search yielded 50 different prescription medicines but no street drugs.

Rafael Gomez, the owner of Panaderia La Diana, was charged with selling prescription drugs without a license. Gomez admitted selling the drugs, which were made in Mexico, where he previously had sold them. He said he did not know it was illegal to sell them in the United States. A judge dismissed the felony charges against him in 1997.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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