Lawsuit targets Yolo County deputies after seizure of attorney’s gun collection

When Yolo County deputies showed up at Anthony DeMaria’s Capay Valley home in April, they were armed with a search warrant that allowed them to walk away with a collection of 34 firearms and 20,000 rounds of ammunition valued at $150,000.

Sheriff’s officials had known the retired 78-year-old attorney for years, and DeMaria had previously invited some deputies to hunt on his 830-acre Guinda property or search for illegal cannabis grows.

They also knew that DeMaria’s mental state was in decline, a fact they cited in the affidavit seeking the search warrant, and they said they were responding to a threat DeMaria had made on a 911 call two days earlier to harm one of their deputies.

But DeMaria was never arrested after deputies went to his house, and has not been charged with any crime involving the case.

Now, the seizure of the weapons is the subject of a federal lawsuit claiming the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office violated DeMaria’s Second Amendment rights and misled a judge into authorizing deputies taking the firearms.

“The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms cannot be subject to a government official’s discretionary determination of whether a law-abiding citizen should be allowed to exercise that right,” attorney Kresta Daly wrote in a 30-page lawsuit filed Tuesday in Sacramento against Sheriff Tom Lopez and nine Sheriff’s Office employees.

The suit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages, alleges deputies violated DeMaria’s right against unreasonable search and seizures and that they used excessive force that has led to “a serious decline in his mental state” and severe injuries to his back and legs.

The suit also alleges Yolo sheriff’s officials have a “long-standing custom or practice of seizing and removing guns from private citizens’ possession without probable cause or evidence of any crime.”

“The real reason law enforcement sought the search warrant was as a ruse to get Tony DeMaria’s guns,” the suit says.

Sheriff’s Lt. Don Harmon declined to comment Tuesday, citing pending litigation.

But both Daly and a prominent gun rights advocate say deputies failed to follow proper procedures in seizing the weapons, contending that deputies should have proceeded under California’s “red flag” laws to take the weapons or sought a declaration from a medical professional that DeMaria posed a danger.

“There is California’s red flag law,” Daly said. “Now, they would have had a hard time qualifying under that law, but that’s the legal way to do it.

“If they thought he shouldn’t have guns that’s how they should have done it.”

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, agreed.

“I would agree with the attorney,” Paredes said. “If law enforcement had some reason to separate this guy from his guns, it had to be a really good reason, and they had to do it by the book.

“And from what I can tell here from what you’ve described to me this is not done by the book. They don’t have the ability to do that. That’s why we have procedures, that’s why we have laws with checks and balances. You can’t violate someone’s rights without going through proper procedures, and even then it’s debatable.”

That opinion is not unanimous, however.

Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness said that in past years deputies routinely talked citizens into giving up their guns temporarily if there were concerns about their potential for violence.

“I couldn’t begin to count the number of times we did that,” said McGinness, now a law enforcement consultant and KFBK-FM radio show host. “We’d say, ‘You have to be smart here. You’ve been angry, you’ve been drinking, I’ll give you a receipt for your property and you can get them back later.’”

McGinness added that the fact that a court issued a valid warrant bolsters the argument that Yolo deputies acted properly.

“When you take the matter to a competent court and they issue a warrant to seize those firearms, that looks very reasonable to me,” he said. “There’s no taking of his assets.

“They’re still on the record as his.”

Court documents say DeMaria has no criminal convictions, but say deputies have seized his weapons twice in recent years and “threatened to take Anthony DeMaria’s guns.”

The first time came in 2017, when DeMaria was accused of assault “where he was verbally abusive and attempted to physically strike another subject,” court records say.

“During the investigation, it was determined that Anthony posed a threat to the community, and his firearms were taken for safekeeping,” the search warrant affidavit says. “The firearms were since returned.”

The latest dispute over the firearms began in early April, and may have stemmed in part from DeMaria’s mental state, which the lawsuit described as “mild to moderate cognitive impairment” that can lead to him being “verbally aggressive.”

The guns in question are part of a collection he has been building for 25 years, the lawsuit says.

“He collected old Colt revolvers because they are rare and iconic,” the lawsuit says. “He collected Henry single-shot lever-action rifles, Winchesters, and old western guns because they are commemorative of the Old West history.

“He collected several target pistols because he formerly trained for target shooting with a neighbor who is one of only several highly awarded target marksmen in the entire country. And he collected several shotguns for his grandchildren.

“Virtually all of Tony DeMaria’s guns were collected for sentimental and historic reasons.”

The catalyst for the latest seizure was a 911 call DeMaria made at 7:29 p.m. April 4 after he could not find Christine, his wife of 56 years, the lawsuit says.

DeMaria had forgotten his wife had gone into town, and instead became convinced she had gone off with Deputy James Mount, the resident deputy for the Capay Valley and an acquaintance of DeMaria’s for 10 years, the lawsuit says.

“Mount was aware of Tony DeMaria’s gun collection and ammunition and knew the combinations to his gun safes,” the suit says. “On previous occasions when Anthony DeMaria became worried he called Deputy Mount on Mount’s cellphone.”

DeMaria called Mount’s cellphone several times that night and when he couldn’t reach him called 911 and told a dispatcher Mount and his wife “disappeared together,” the lawsuit says.

DeMaria also called another deputy he knows, Michael Glaser, and “informed Deputy Glaser that Deputy Mount took his wife Christine away and demanded Deputy Mount return her or there would be consequences to pay,” the search warrant affidavit says.

“Anthony stated there would be one less deputy working for the Sheriff’s Department and that he will sue. Anthony was agitated and very aggressive.”

Mount learned of the 911 call later that night and went to DeMaria’s house and spoke to him, then left and filed a report that said Mount “was not afraid of Tony DeMaria,” the suit says.

“Despite the fact Deputy Mount documented his lack of fear of Tony DeMaria the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, without Mount’s knowledge, sought a search warrant for the DeMaria residence,” the lawsuit says.

Detective Robert Middleman wrote in the affidavit for the warrant that “Anthony DeMaria made a credible and willful threat to cause harm to Deputy Mount.”

“Anthony stated there will be one less deputy, implying he intended to kill Deputy Mount,” Middleman wrote, adding that DeMaria was making criminal threats and that he was seeking a warrant to seize DeMaria’s weapons because he “shows signs of violent behavior.”

Middleman also cited other incidents of yelling being heard inside the DeMaria house and of an irrigation system a worker installed on the property being shot up.

“Christina apologized to the worker stating that Anthony was pissed off at the world and intentionally destroyed the lines,” the affidavit says.

Two days after the 911 call, deputies showed up to serve the search warrant, and Capt. Gary Hallenbeck met Christina DeMaria on the home’s porch and twice said, “Your husband threatened to kill one of my deputies, what was I supposed to do?” the lawsuit says.

“This statement by Captain Hallenbeck was false,” the suit says. “Despite the fact that James Mount is the resident deputy in the Capay Valley and is well known to have a relationship with the DeMarias he was not told Yolo County deputies were planning to execute a warrant at the DeMaria residence.

“Mount became aware of the search after it was largely completed.”

The lawsuit says DeMaria “was greatly distressed” by the deputies’ presence and ordered them to leave, resulting in him being handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police car.

“Thereafter they proceeded to taunt and wave at Tony DeMaria when they went by the car, seeing that he was highly distressed and angered by their taunting,” the suit says, adding that he suffered numerous cuts and bruises and “suffered severe injury to his back and nerves.”

After all of that, the lawsuit says, deputies did not arrest DeMaria but instead took him to a hospital and never charged him.

“Since the day of the search, Tony DeMaria’s mental state has significantly declined,” the suit says. “He is deeply paranoid and disoriented.

“He cannot focus on any issue other than YCSO’s unlawful intrusion into his home and the seizure of his weapons.”

Daly, DeMaria’s attorney, says she believes she may be able to arrange for a relative of the family to retrieve the weapons from the custody of the sheriff.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit says, Yolo sheriff’s officials have an unwritten policy of seizing guns “any chance they get to be on the premises for any incident, without legal justification for removal of the guns.”

The lawsuit says Deputy Glaser had previously told DeMaria’s wife that he wanted the guns out of their house, and that he supposedly told a friend at a party that “as soon as you start getting dementia I’m taking your guns away.”

The lawsuit cites another instance in which deputies arrived after a 911 call because of a resident dying from COVID-19 and ended up removing “all guns from the residence.”