Magdalena, marshal sued over search
The village of Magdalena and its marshal are being sued in federal court over a July 11 search for a rumored marijuana grow operation, during which searchers allegedly pulled naked teenagers out of a shower and handcuffed people to furniture. Search efforts resulted in two marijuana charges: a misdemeanor and a petty misdemeanor.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 9 in U.S. District Court for the district of New Mexico, alleges Fourth Amendment rights violations by the marshal and implies financial corruption among village officials.
Plaintiffs include Ashley Mahdy and Lottie Tramonte Mahdy, who own the Western Motel & RV Park on Main Street in Magdalena and the adjacent mobile home, as well as the 19-year-old tenant leasing that mobile home and his 17-year-old girlfriend, who brings the action through her mother until she turns 18 next spring.
The complaint filed by the plaintiffs’ attorney alleges Marshal Larry Cearley and a group of unidentified, black-clad men armed with what plaintiffs perceived as assault rifles searched the Western Motel & RV Park and the adjacent mobile home residence the morning of July 11.
The search warrant, signed by a 7th Judicial District Court judge on July 8, only names the Western Motel and the Mahdys as the subjects of the search. The complaint alleges the mobile home, a separate residence leased on a month-to-month basis, was mentioned on the warrant as a marker indicating the rear of the property. The tenant was not included as a suspect on the warrant.
“Plaintiffs are filing suit in part to stop the harm to their business reputation and let everyone know their motel has nothing whatsoever to do with criminal activity of any kind,” Brad D. Hall, the plaintiffs’ attorney, stated in a news release issued from his office. “All hunters, travelers, scientists, contractors and tourists are welcome to come back, like they were coming before this incident occurred.
“The other reason they are filing suit is to vindicate their rights; no reason exists for law abiding, hard-working citizens to fear government raids by men dressed in black masks who refuse to identify themselves, carrying assault rifles, supposedly based on a rumor.”
The suit also alleges the marshal is a felon who was previously convicted of attempted fraud based on his dishonesty with the court system. The complaint states the village should have known this and was responsible for employing a felon in the role of marshal, and any statement Cearley makes — including the search warrant affidavit — is questionable since he has been dishonest with the courts before.
Online court records indicate one felony fraud and 12 felony forgery charges were brought against Cearley in 2001 in Carrizozo District Court. The fraud charge was conditionally discharged, 11 forgery charges were dismissed and Cearley pleaded no contest to one forgery charge.
Cearley said during a telephone conversation Tuesday he could not make any on-the-record comment concerning the lawsuit. Magdalena Mayor Sandy Julian was out of town, according to staff answering phones at the village hall Tuesday, so was unavailable for comment.
“I don’t think it’s ethical for attorneys to comment about pending litigation in the media, that’s my personal belief,” James Lyle, attorney for the defendants, said during a telephone interview Tuesday. “The litigation … is available for public review. It’s a public proceeding and I, frankly, have never seen the point of lawyers saying things in the media when it’s a public proceeding.”
The lawsuit complaint states that after obtaining the search warrant, Cearley arranged for a group of searchers to help execute it, but the group did not include any Magdalena officer other than Cearley.
The Socorro County Sheriff’s Department did not participate in the search, according to SCSD deputies, nor did the Socorro Police Department.
According to the complaint, Cearley and the men in black burst into the Western Motel and ordered Lottie Mahdy to sit on the motel’s front porch for interrogation. Searchers handcuffed Ashley Mahdy to a living room chair.
According to the complaint, the searchers refused to provide a copy of the search warrant to the Mahdys. They told the Mahdys that they were felons in possession of firearms and were rumored to have a grow operation. The Mahdys’ RV, also parked at the property, was also searched.
The complaint alleges Cearley and the unidentified searchers told neighbors, existing motel customers and any who appeared with reservations that the Mahdys were under arrest as felons in possession of firearms in connection to a drug raid. It also alleges Cearley and the searchers maintained a presence in front of the Western Motel to divert customers away throughout the morning, directing people down the street to the High Country Lodge.
According to the complaint, plaintiffs believe the timing of the search July 11 was meant to disrupt the Western Motel’s business during Old Timers Reunion weekend, July 12-14. Although Old Timers Reunion was officially canceled by the village due to its water crisis this summer, a scaled-down event set up for the same weekend was expected to draw many visitors. The Western Motel had been fully booked for the weekend, with customers starting to arrive July 11.
When contacted by telephone Sept. 23 and asked about the lawsuit over the search, Cearley responded he could not say anything about the lawsuit but “we have arrest warrants out” stemming from a search and the investigation is ongoing.
Socorro Magistrate Court records indicate Ashley Mahdy was charged July 11 for petty misdemeanor possession of marijuana and misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia. A summons was sent to Ashley Mahdy at an address on Spruce Street, although he lives at the residence in the Western Motel on Main Street where the search was conducted. The summons was returned in the mail as “unable to deliver” and a bench warrant was issued Aug. 23.
The complaint alleges Ashley Mahdy legally carries a medical marijuana card issued by the state and uses marijuana to treat symptoms related to injuries sustained during his 14 years of military service.
No court records were found indicating any of the other plaintiffs have been charged with any offense since July 11.
According to the lawsuit complaint, the 19-year-old tenant of the Mahdys’ rental and his 17-year-old girlfriend were in the shower July 11 when three searchers “invaded the mobile home bathroom without a warrant, but with assault weapons.” The men in black ordered the couple out of the shower at gunpoint, and no female agent was present.
The complaint alleges the agents refused to allow the couple to get dressed, so they wrapped themselves in towels as best they could. They were taken to the dining area, where the tenant was handcuffed to a kitchen chair. The 17-year-old’s parent was not called to be present for the interrogation.
The searchers agreed to allow the 17-year-old to get dressed after talking among themselves, according to the complaint. The girl was the first released from the trailer; she then telephoned her mother, crying. Her mother arrived minutes later to confront the marshal, wanting to see the warrant and to know why her daughter was kept naked under a towel in front of masked, armed men for over 10 minutes.
Rather than showing the warrant or providing an explanation, the complaint alleges Cearley “mocked” the mother for allowing her daughter to have a relationship with the trailer tenant, claiming the relationship made her daughter a felon.