DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (KABC) --A $27 million lawsuit is accusing Ventura County law enforcement of conducting illegal strip searches and raids that the plaintiffs say violated their civil rights.
The plaintiffs are two wastewater plant employees who are facing criminal charges in connection with a Nov. 18, 2014 plant explosion near Santa Paula that injured several people, including 3 firefighters.
But they say the way law enforcement has investigated and treated them goes beyond the merits of a case their attorney calls "essentially regulatory offenses."
"There was a sustained effort of retaliation and an effort to denigrate and destroy the lives of these two individuals and their families," said attorney Stephen Larson.
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs Dean Poe, an executive at the Santa Clara Waste Water Co., and David Wirsing, a transportation manager at the plant, claim Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten, Sheriff Geoff Dean and the county subjected them to unlawful raids and illegal strip searches.
"They were brought in and a communal body cavity search was conducted in front of co-employees," Larson said. "This type of degrading treatment is what we're complaining about."
Poe and Wirsing were indicted on multiple felony counts stemming from the 2014 explosion. Among the charges: conspiracy to commit a crime, handling hazardous waste with a reckless disregard for human life, and committing violations causing injuries and other charges.
Poe and Wirsing's attorney acknowledged they are serious charges, but not deserving of what they deem to be excessive use of force.
The district attorney's office, sheriff's department and Ventura County detention facility all declined to respond to a request for comment.
Loyola law school professor Laurie Levenson said the full SWAT raids do seem unusual and potentially dangerous given the nature of the case.
"What was unusual here was the full SWAT operation," Levenson said. "And it's actually rather dangerous for everybody involved because the officers are hyper-sensitive to what might occur and the individuals are wondering what's happening and why."