A prominent Parlier resident says in a lawsuit filed last week that a sheriff's deputy illegally entered his home one night without permission or a warrant and forcibly arrested him -- tearing an insulin needle from his body.
Terry Hillblom, 59, a former attorney and the vice president of a nonprofit that issues medical research grants, says a Fresno County sheriff's deputy violated his Fourth Amendment rights by conducting an unlawful search and seizure in his home.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Fresno County Superior Court, alleges deputy Robert Carey also used excessive force when he "violently" seized Hillblom and slammed him against a brick fireplace, cutting his wrist and forearm and ripping an insulin needle out of Hillblom, who is a diabetic.
A police report says Carey entered the home after Hillblom's daughter called 911 when her son refused to leave the house. It says Hillblom interfered with Carey's investigation and caused his own injuries when he resisted arrest.
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Hillblom was detained for three hours and charged with obstructing an officer, but the misdemeanor eventually was dropped when a judge said during Hillblom's criminal proceedings that the deputy had violated the Parlier man's constitutional rights.
Hillblom's attorney, Patience Milrod, said her client's arrest raises questions about whether the deputy used excessive force when a genuine threat did not exist.
"What I know from prior cases is that officers sometimes lose their temper and feel civilians fail the attitude test and they sometimes misuse their power," Milrod said.
Similar questions about another deputy's use of force arose earlier this year when a deputy shot Fowler farmer Donnie Srabian one night in February.
The deputy was responding to a 911 call but drove to the wrong house and accidentally crashed into some garbage cans, prompting Srabian to run out of his rural home with a gun in his hand. The deputy says he shot Srabian in the stomach after the 61-year-old aimed the gun at him. But Srabian, who recovered from the shooting after a day in the hospital, says he was only carrying his gun and was blinded by the patrol car's headlights.
Srabian was charged with assault on a peace officer and faces up to nine years in prison. A trial is pending.
Assistant Sheriff Tom Gattie said he has no reason to believe that deputies in either the Srabian or Hillblom case acted inappropriately.
"If you're making some kind of inference that deputies overreact, I think that's hogwash," he said.
Regarding the Hillblom case, Gattie said, "The officer believes he acted appropriately, the department believes he acted appropriately. There is nothing to indicate at this juncture that the officer didn't act appropriately."
Hillblom does not have a criminal history in Fresno County. He is the vice president and vice chairman of the Larry L. Hillblom Foundation, which is named after Hillblom's brother who died in 1995 and was the co-founder of DHL Worldwide Express. The nonprofit foundation provides millions of dollars in grants primarily for medical research.
The April 25, 2006, incident began when Hillblom's daughter, Kimberly Leon, was visiting Hillblom's home for a court-ordered supervised visit of her 5-year-old daughter. The lawsuit says Leon was a drug user who had lost custody of her daughter and also had kicked out her 14-year-old son, who had moved in with the Hillbloms.
According to the lawsuit, Leon called police after her son refused to leave Hillblom's house and return to her Sanger home. She apparently made the call without the knowledge of Hillblom or his wife, Sandra Hillblom. Carey responded to the call.
The lawsuit says a dispatcher told Carey that Leon wasn't a resident of the home. But after Leon invited him in, Carey entered and later walked down a hallway -- an action Fresno County Superior Court Commissioner Jeff Bird later deemed unconstitutional during Hillblom's criminal proceedings. He said Carey should have had approval from a resident before entering the home.
Carey walked into a den where the Hillblom couple were resting and their grandson was doing homework. The grandparents were surprised to find an officer in their home, the lawsuit says.
Carey says in his report that he tried to introduce himself to Terry Hillblom but was interrupted when Hillblom got up from his chair and yelled, "Get out! You don't have exigent circumstances!" -- a legal reference to laws that prohibit an officer from intruding on a home unless there is an emergency.
Hillblom waved a remote control in front of Carey's face, which Carey said in his report he perceived "as a possible threat to my personal safety." The report says that when Carey tried to step around Hillblom to get to his grandson, Hillblom cut him off and put his hand on Carey's chest. That's when Carey tried to arrest him, but Hillblom resisted by "tensing up his left arm and pulling away from me." The report said Hillblom sustained his injuries by inadvertently scraping his arm on the brick fireplace while trying to break free.
Hillblom's version of the encounter is much different. In his lawsuit, he says he told Carey they should both go outside to talk. It says Carey ignored his request and told him to sit down. Then Carey walked toward Hillblom until the two men were almost face to face. The lawsuit says that when Hillblom demanded Carey leave, the deputy seized Hillblom and slammed him against a brick fireplace a few feet away, "jerking his arms up behind his back and handcuffing him."
In the scuffle, Hillblom's insulin pump came off his belt and the needle was pulled out of his body.
Hillblom could not be reached for comment and Milrod said she did not know where the needle had been inserted. Most insulin needles are placed in a person's abdomen, said Scott Hagen, a nurse practitioner with the Endocrinology Clinic in Fresno.
Carey then locked Hillblom in his patrol car for about 40 minutes, according to the lawsuit. It says that when Hillblom pointed out that he needed to install a new insulin pump, Carey told him, "I don't care."
When Carey's sergeant arrived on the scene, Hillblom was eventually allowed to insert a new pump -- but by then his blood glucose levels had risen to more than double the acceptable levels, the lawsuit says. It says Carey then brought Hillblom to the Reedley Police Department, where he was cited and released hours later.
The District Attorney's Office backed Carey's account of the arrest, but ultimately decided to dismiss the case last November after Bird, the commissioner, told attorneys in the case that "Mr. Hillblom's Fourth Amendment rights were, in fact, being violated. The officer was in his house without a warrant, without consent, and without exigent circumstances."
Calls to Carey were not returned.
The lawsuit asks that Hillblom -- as well as his grandson and his wife -- be compensated for the emotional toll the arrest and the criminal proceedings took on them, as well as for attorney fees. It does not specify how much money they are seeking.
Because the incident happened while former Sheriff Richard Pierce was in office, he and a handful of supervising officers, as well as the Sheriff's Department, are named in the suit. Pierce declined to comment because the case may go to trial.