Press Democrat files motion to unseal search warrant served on Santa Rosa council member Eddie Alvarez at City Hall
Plainclothes officers from the Santa Rosa Police Department served a search warrant on Santa Rosa Vice Mayor Eddie Alvarez in the City Hall parking garage and seized three phones, including one that was issued by the city, after a council meeting on Jan. 11.
The warrant, which remains under court seal, was related to a September shooting outside a Roseland bar. Alvarez had been at the bar, but had left before the shooting occurred, he told The Press Democrat. Both Alvarez and police said he is not currently a suspect.
The Press Democrat filed a motion in Sonoma County Superior court Wednesday to unseal the warrant after the District Attorney’s office declined to ask a judge to lift the seal.
“If there is a warrant that is sealed in a case, there is a good reason for that,” Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell wrote in a March 14 email to The Press Democrat.
Press Democrat Executive Editor Richard Green said the documents should be “unsealed and available for public view immediately.”
“This appears to be a highly unusual case involving a Santa Rose council member, and we see no reason why these records remain sealed,” Green said. “Transparency is essential in all phases of government, including the criminal justice system. That is why The Press Democrat is taking this extraordinary step.”
Alvarez, who represents southwestern Santa Rosa, has told The Press Democrat he was at the Whiskey Tip, a bar in his district that was hosting a Saturday night hip hop and rap concert, the night of Sept. 25, 2021.
Two Santa Rosa men, Fogatia Fuiava and Ednie Afamasaga, have been charged with the murder of Kenneth McDaniel, 27, of Santa Rosa and are facing preliminary hearings in June.
Alvarez is the first council member elected to represent the majority Latino Roseland and southwestern Santa Rosa areas since the city moved into district elections in 2020. His colleagues appointed Alvarez Vice Mayor in December.
He expressed frustration that he was served a search warrant in front of his colleagues but later was declared not to be a suspect. He also accused police of trying to ascribe “a narrative to who we are from the southwest (Santa Rosa) community.”
“I can’t believe that after everything I’ve done to improve my life I am still being surrounded by a bunch of cops,” Alvarez said. “I cannot allow the last two years of the advancements we’ve made to be erased because of pathetic tactics.”
The Santa Rosa Police Department declined to comment on the investigation or the reasons for the search warrant.
State law states that a search warrant should become public record after being executed, unless a judge rules on a motion to maintain the seal longer. There is no public record that such a motion was made in this case.
Santa Rosa city officials told The Press Democrat they would not release communications among council members and Police Chief Ray Navarro about the incident until the seal was lifted.
“Some of the requested emails may relate to that warrant,” city spokesperson Alexa Popplewell wrote in response to a public records request.
“We will produce any responsive documents which may relate to the search warrant upon receipt of a Court Order unsealing the subject warrant,” she wrote.
Police spokesperson Sgt. Chris Mahurin told The Press Democrat that Alvarez is not a suspect of the case. Mayor Chris Rogers said he also had been informed that Alvarez was not a suspect, and there was nothing in the investigation that should prevent him from continuing to attend meetings, Rogers told The Press Democrat.
At least two council members saw the warrant being served, and while it raised eyebrows, it has stayed out of public view for more than two months. Several council members said they were unaware why Alvarez was served.
Some questioned why officers had served the warrant following a council meeting and on the grounds of the seat of city government.
“I don’t know the circumstances but I question if it would have gone down differently for another council member,” said council member Natalie Rogers, who served as vice mayor before Alvarez and is the only other person of color on the council. “If it were not Eddie, would he have been served the warrant in that way?”
Alvarez has stopped using the parking garage where a space previously had his name reserved as an elected official, Rogers said. “That’s trauma,” she said, and “it hurts me to my core.”
Mahurin, the police spokesperson, said that in general, “our goal is to always serve a search warrant in the safest means possible. And sometimes contacting people in public places reduces the risk of safety concerns.”