On January 13, Encinitas resident Youssef Boulaalam, through his attorney Allen Berrey, filed a 40-page claim of civil rights violations, illegal search, fabrication of evidence, false arrest, and imprisonment against Mono County and their sheriff’s department.
Heading back to Encinitas from Bridgeport on July 10, Boulaalam was pulled over on Highway 395, after a patrol car followed him closely for several miles. According to a deputy’s report, Boulaalam was initially suspected of DUI; however, Boulaalam says he was never questioned about drinking.
As described in the complaint, Boulaalam told Deputy Torres of the legal, locked-away rifle underneath all of his camping gear. Boulaalam said Torres told him the car was going to be searched anyway, only then asking permission.
Stating he was not under arrest, the officers placed Boulaalam, uncuffed, in the back of the patrol car while Torres thoroughly searched the vehicle.
Boulaalam advised Sgt. Hahn that he also had a handgun, registered to his boss, who had left the camping trip earlier. He told the officer exactly where to find the pistol in his zippered backpack.
The complaint states Hahn went to the backpack, dug through the clothes to find the pistol, examined it, and put it in the backpack and back inside the vehicle.
Even though the backpack had been out of the driver’s reach, Boulaalam had left the loaded clip in the pistol — a violation. When Hahn told Torres about the pistol, Torres arrested Boulaalam for a possible felony.
It’s in the evidence photos that attorney Berrey says the two deputies were “dumb enough to get themselves into trouble, and not smart enough get themselves out.”
Photos show the pistol sticking out of the backpack, sitting in the front seat. It was implied that’s where the officer found the gun. If that’s true, Berrey points out, that means Torres left Boulaalam alone in the car after the initial three-minute contact, with a loaded handgun on the seat next to him.
The local DA bought the officers’ side of the story but reduced the charge to a misdemeanor. Boulaalam, who says he has no other criminal record, bailed out of jail the next day. Berrey says the officer’s dashboard video will vindicate his client.
A few other San Diego County residents have reportedly run afoul of Mono County sheriff Ralph Obenberger and his deputies. Over the Labor Day weekend, the sheriff’s department focused on people returning from Nevada’s Burning Man encampment. Several San Diegans were cited or arrested for marijuana or drug possession.
Reacting to the negative statewide press surrounding the Labor Day selective enforcement, the Mono County Board of Supervisors asked the sheriff to answer a few questions at its December 10 meeting.
Sheriff Obenberger, backed up by 15 deputies at the meeting, stated to the board that the body “does not determine the type of law-enforcement services provided to the citizens and/or visitors of Mono County.” After a few more brief statements, he and his deputies reportedly walked out of the meeting.
Some Mono County residents are not happy with how the sheriff is running his department in a tourist-based economy. One of his former deputies, Ingrid Braun, will run against him in the June primary.
Disclosure: As a frequent visitor to the Eastern Sierras, this writer had a letter to the editor published in The Sheet, a local Mammoth weekly newspaper. The one-paragraph letter published on December 20 was critical of Sheriff Obenberger’s display of force at the December 10 meeting. This writer received an anonymous email through the paper’s website advising he should “mind his own business.”