A lawsuit was filed May 2, 2022 in U.S. District Court of Nebraska against Cozad Police Officer John Peden, Cozad Police Chief Mark Montgomery and City of Cozad by Cozad resident Veronica Sandoval. Sandoval alleges unreasonable search and seizure in her home and abuse of power by law enforcement, more specifically her right not to be arrested by Officer Peden without probable cause and Officer Peden entering her home without a warrant.
The petition says that in early April 2022, Officer Peden responded to a domestic disturbance at Sandoval’s home. The father of Sandoval’s baby allegedly struck Sandoval leaving visible marks on her. After speaking with the male subject, Officer Peden arrested only Sandoval and transported her to jail. No charges were filed against Sandoval by the Dawson County Attorney.
The next day Sandoval arranged for a sitter to stay with her infant while she drove to Lexington to buy groceries. When Sandoval returned home, her sitter(who does not speak English) advised her that while Sandoval was gone, Officer Peden came to Sandoval’s home, entered without a warrant twice and searched for an iPhone belonging to someone else. Peden was yelling “where’s Veronica, where’s the iPhone? Where’s the iPhone?” When Sandoval’s sitter expressed her confusion, Peden yelled a vulgarity at her.
Sandoval’s petition alleges Peden did not have a warrant to enter Sandoval’s home, there was no emergency, Peden was not doing a welfare check and not in fresh pursuit of a fleeing felon.
The petition says that Officer Peden felt empowered to enter Sandoval’s home without a warrant because Police Chief Montgomery had created an informal policy and custom at the Cozad Police Department whereby officers could violate citizens’ 4th and 14th Amendment rights without serious and meaningful consequence. The petition continues that Chief Montgomery, as final policymaker, had refused to retrain Peden, to remove Peden from his duties or to fire Peden “in spite of repeated notice that Peden was a menace to the citizens of the city that Chief Montgomery was charged with serving and protecting.”
In August of 2020, the petition states that the entire Police Department had approached Chief Montgomery to “advise that they had no confidence in (Peden); and that “they were afraid that his decision making was going to get them in trouble.” Several officers advised Chief Montgomery that Peden had “advised them to arrest individuals when it was not warranted to arrest them.” One officer stated that he was “more afraid of working with Peden than working with the criminals”. All officers stated that Peden’s behavior had become more erratic over the last few years. Some officers even threatened to resign unless Montgomery took action against Peden.
In response to the complaints of other Cozad Police Department officers, Chief Montgomery demoted Peden from “sergeant” to “officer”. The effect of the action meant that although Peden was no longer supervising other officers, he remained in the Police Department.
In addition to compensatory damages, Sandoval also seeks punitive damages, in part because the “defendants had literally just resolved another lawsuit over Peden’s abuse of his law enforcement authority”.
That settlement refers to a lawsuit filed against Peden and the City of Cozad in March 2021, alleging abusive use of a taser against an unarmed, suicidal subject, followed by the subject’s arrest and handcuffing. Peden was also alleged to have threatened the subject’s sibling that he would place the sibling’s children in Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services custody. That case was settled on March 18, 2022 by mediation with the insurer for Peden and City of Cozad agreeing to pay $115,000.