A 75-year-old retired E.&J. Gallo Winery vice president is suing several Stanislaus County law enforcement agencies, alleging that officers used excessive force to apprehend her when they scoured her home in a late-night search a year ago.
Sue McClelland, the first woman to become a Gallo Winery vice president, suffered bruises to her arms and neck in the search when she tripped as officers led her out of her home in the dark.
Her attorney said he believes McClelland's home was searched as part of an investigation into a man who had been leasing land on her rural property east of Modesto. It does not appear the man was charged with a crime, according to the Stanislaus County Superior Court index.
Modesto Senior Deputy City Attorney Jim Wilson confirmed that the home was one of several properties that were searched with a warrant, but he declined to comment further.
McClelland is seeking unspecified damages from the agencies, charging that officers violated her rights without due process of law, detained her illegally and were negligent in performing their jobs.
"We want to hold them accountable to their own standards," McClelland said Wednesday. She declined to comment further and referred other questions to her attorney, Robert Fores of Modesto.
She is suing the city of Modesto, Stanislaus County, the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency and officers who were at her home when the search took place April 29, 2008. She filed her case in U.S. District Court in Fresno this week.
The Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency includes officers from the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department and the police departments in Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, Oakdale, Waterford, Newman and Hughson, according to its Web site. The SDEA includes federal agents, too.
Stanislaus County Counsel John Doering did not return a call for comment. Sheriff's Department spokesman deputy Royjindar Singh also did not respond to The Bee's request for comment.
McClelland was a renowned advertising executive who succeeded in persuading TV stations to run the first commercials for sanitary napkins in the 1960s.
She retired from E.&J. Gallo Winery in December 2006 after a 35-year career at the company, during which she oversaw network advertising and led the Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers campaign.
By her account, McClelland was sound asleep when she heard banging on her door on the night officers searched her home.
"Assuming it was burglars, she ran to push the panic alarm button," Fores wrote in the lawsuit. "Before she got there, she was confronted by several armed men who neither identified themselves nor provided her with or showed her a search warrant. She was terrified and in shock, and not fully awake."
Fores wrote that McClelland was escorted outside when she fell and couldn't stand up because of pain in her artificial hips. He wrote that paramedics took her to a hospital that night.
She returned to find her home in disarray.
Fores said the warrant and search should have been handled differently.
"If they had done a little research on who lived in this property, they would've found some information about her that would've helped them," he said.
"First thing is, she wouldn't have gotten hurt, and the second thing is she might've been able to help them," he said.
The lawsuit suggests that McClelland wants to reveal how officers are trained on how to research warrants, and whether they followed their standards while carrying out the search of her property.
"We all care about law enforcement," Fores said. "We root for law enforcement. We want the right thing to happen. When something egregious like this happens, we want to know why."
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.