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Judge unseals some documents related to search warrant served on Santa Rosa council member Eddie Alvarez

A Sonoma County judge on Tuesday ordered the Santa Rosa Police Department to turn over some documents regarding a sealed search warrant served on Santa Rosa City Councilman Eddie Alvarez.

The documents confirm that police served the warrant on Alvarez in connection with their investigation of a September 2021 shooting outside a bar in southwestern Santa Rosa and that they seized three cellphones, as the council member has told The Press Democrat. However, the documents reveal little else.

Police officials have declared Alvarez is not a suspect in the shooting but have declined to say why they served a warrant on him. The documents a judge ordered unsealed Tuesday do not indicate what grounds police had when they got permission from a judge to serve the warrant on Alvarez.

Police served the warrant as Alvarez left a city council meeting Jan. 11, and at least two of his colleagues witnessed the event.

Alvarez, the first directly elected to represent the majority-Latino Roseland, has accused police of targeting him and tarnishing his credibility and reputation. That stain continues as more time goes by without his constituents receiving public insight into the reasons for the warrant, Alvarez said.

“The court of public perception has gone old,” Alvarez said, reached for comment at Tuesday’s Santa Rosa City Council meeting.

Alvarez was strongly considering legal action of his own to try and get the rest of the warrant documents unsealed, he said. “The public deserves it,” he said, “the family (of the homicide victim) deserves it. I deserve it.”

The continued secrecy is hurting not just Alvarez but also the public, according to Press Democrat attorneys Thomas Burke and Sarah Burns.

After three months, “the public knows no more now than it did then about this search of a publicly-elected official, because the Warrant Materials were filed under a blanket seal, and have remained that way ever since,” they wrote in an April 18 filing.

It has now been four months since police served the warrant, and more than six weeks since officials publicly declared the council member was not a suspect.

“SRPD’s actions have cast a veil of impropriety over Councilmember Alvarez while he continues to carry out his representative duties,” the April filing continued.

Alvarez was at the bar, called the Whiskey Tip, the night of the homicide but left before the shooting. Fogatia Fuiava and Ednie Afamasaga, two Santa Rosa men Alvarez says he has never met, have been arrested and await trial for the killing of 27-year-old Kenneth McDaniel.

The men were captured on a security camera firing the fatal shots, according to police.

Still, Sonoma County District Attorney Anne Masterson, the lead prosecutor in the case against Fuiava and Afamasaga, wrote in an April 11 affidavit that the investigation connected to the warrant was ongoing. Unsealing the warrant “would likely compromise, delay, hinder or obstruct the investigation,” she wrote.

The Press Democrat filed a motion in late March asking Sonoma County Judge Christopher Honigsberg to unseal the warrant, which has remained shrouded in secrecy for more than four months.

The newspaper’s attorneys have argued that under state law a search warrant becomes public record after being executed unless a judge rules on a motion to maintain the seal longer. There was no public record of such a motion in this case.

After a nearly 90-minute closed-door hearing with an SRPD attorney Tuesday morning, Honigsberg ordered the department to release Masterson’s affidavit. Speaking from the bench, he also ordered that the sealed “return,” which lists the contents of what was seized, be made public and said he would follow up with a written order.

Honigsberg declined for now to unseal the police investigator’s affidavit and search warrant application, records that would show what grounds the police gave a judge to search the council member and seize his cellphones. The court could take the matter back up in July, he said, following a June preliminary hearing in the murder trial.

Santa Rosa City Hall is also withholding communications between Alvarez and other council members, as well as communications between the elected officials and former police chief Ray Navarro. The Press Democrat requested the communications under California’s public records law.

City officials did not immediately indicate whether they would begin releasing those documents. City attorney Sue Gallagher was leading council hearings on the city’s budget throughout the day Tuesday.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

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