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Did Law Enforcement Overreact in Thursday's Pre-Dawn Raid?

More than 40 federal and regional law enforcement agents took part in executing Thursday's search warrant on a Petaluma home. But many wonder if the show of force was necessary and whether there was a better way to go about it

On Thursday, neighbors on McNeil Avenue were woken up by SWAT agents decked out in camouflage jackets, face masks, and carrying assault rifles.

There were more than 40 of them, according to reports, men who marched onto the tiny residential street behind Best Western Inn to serve a “high risk” warrant for a gang murder that took place two years ago in South San Francisco.

Now some residents want to know: did federal, state and local law enforcement overreact?

A woman who knows the family described a scene of utter destruction, with furniture and many belongings destroyed and one of the family boxers shot dead. (The other one is missing and has been seen wandering near the freeway).

“It was overkill,” said the source, who did not want to be identified. “It’s such a waste of our taxpayer money. It could have been handled a lot more quietly.” She said she has spoken with the suspect’s mother who said that had she known police were outside their door, the family would have cooperated.

“They fired shots because they thought the home was being broken into,” she said.

Three Department of Homeland Security agents were wounded in the attack, including one who may never walk again.

Press Democrat writer Chris Coursey raised the same question in his Friday column, asking whether the military-like response was the best way to apprehend the 20-year-old suspect, identified as Victor Flores, who according to the source, lives in the home with his father, mother and 17-year-old brother.

(Neighbors had said young children lived in the home.)

“It seems that if you can afford to bring an army into a residential neighborhood in the dead of night to arrest a guy for a two-year-old shooting, you could instead spare a few detectives for a while to follow him around and figure out a way to make an arrest without the kind of drama that unfolded in Petaluma on Thursday morning,” Coursey wrote.

Read Coursey’s entire column here

But Virginia Kice, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the agency took into account the history of the suspect, the charges facing him and not only needed to make an arrest, but make sure no neighbors would be injured in the process.

"These were high risk targets, including several who have been linked to violent acts, including murder," Kice said. "Keep in mind that we have three people who were shot by an individual who is a murder suspect facing the death penalty. Our agents were met with fire from an automatic weapon and we should not downplay their wounds."

Responding to questions about why Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were involved, Kice said that ICE is the main investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security and does not only focus on undocumented people, but also carries out investigations into weapons trafficking, racketeering and transnational street gangs.

According to officials, Flores is a member of a Norteño splinter group in South San Francisco charged with a triple murder of rival gang members in December 2010.

Several Petaluma Patch readers also questioned the all-out response and wondered whether it was intended to drive home the message that gang violence would not be tolerated.

“Entering through the garage and shooting the dogs - if someone did that to me without identifying themselves, shots ringing out, wouldn't you reach for the self protection too if you had it?” wrote LongTime Local. 

CORRECTION: The family dogs were boxers, not pitbulls. Petaluma Patch regrets the error.

What do you think? Was there a better way to serve a warrant on a 20-year-old alleged gang member? Sound off in the comments below.

bitch May 05, 2012 at 05:08 PM
U must be a republican
Terri E May 05, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Do you think law enforcement shot themselves and I read that the police cut through the garage door with a chainsaw and was met by automatic fire, 3 officers were shot. Witnesses at the scene said they heard the automatic fire, then silence, then automatic fire again The dog would not have been shot or 3 officers injured if the subject had acted like a man and surrendered so his family would have been safe. He is a coward gang member who does drive bys and thinks he is above the law. I thank law enforcement for taking him off the street!
Terri E May 05, 2012 at 06:03 PM
I would think an assault rifle woud be a give away. The neighbor I saw being interviewed said that there was a great deal of people coming in and out of the location on a regular basis. I am truly sorry about the dog regardless of breed, but when law enforcement is fired upon they have the legal right to fire back.
Terri E May 05, 2012 at 06:11 PM
I agree with you concerned citizen, the man could have accepted responsibility for the officers being, weather guilty or not, he was the reason they were there after a lengthly investigation, and surrendered, no one would have been endangered or hurt. He obviously didn't care about the other individuals in the house, relatives or not. I believe the suspect is to blame for what happened.
Terri E May 05, 2012 at 06:15 PM
I haven't read that they were illegal immigrants, did I miss something?
Jax May 05, 2012 at 06:37 PM
I find it interesting that people like Coursey, whom know nothing about Law Enforcement, tactics or procedures AND have absolutely no inside knowledge of a situation... Question the execution of such an event. Maybe the next time something like this happens, we should put Coursey, whom doesn't know JACK about law enforcement in charge of the situation. These people who cry it is overkill here are the same people who think Cops should shoot weapons out of criminal's hands and that every murderous psycho out there peacefully and voluntarily surrenders the very second a Cop screams 'Halt!" There are three people wounded by gunfire from and NONE of them are among the numerous civilians who were in the area! I think I'm safe in assuming that this wasn't an over reaction. And I think I'm safe in assuming Coursey has no idea what he is rambling about.
Jax May 05, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Ahmen!
The Fool May 05, 2012 at 07:37 PM
It's very dangerous to say that because we don't have all the facts in a situation, we should not comment, or we should not second guess the police. We will never have all the facts and the people who have access to the most information--the officials, according to many comments, are "not to be questioned." Excuse me? It's a sad day for democracy when we let the emotions of a situation cloud the larger reason we have the system we do. The rule of law is supposed to be what our founding documents are based on, to be above the particulars of any situation. We have every right to question. The moment we stop is the moment we have lost our Constitution. And, while not commenting on the particulars of this event, no-knock raids have a long and quite researchable history of often going wrong. Officer-involved shootings happen every day and several are under questionable conditions. Although on a temporary hiatus, you can check archives of a site called "injustice everywhere" that collected news accounts of what I am talking about, literally every day.
Ptown May 05, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Funny how many controversial stories on patch include anonymous "sources", whose statements are usually proven wrong. Stirring fake pots?
Jax May 05, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Ned, The only thing dangerous here is people with your mindset. You are talking as if this was some incident involving a juvenile delinquent cutting class... This was a known violent gang member / murderer. There are factions of our justice system which are created to deal with this sort of menace and they don't answer to you or me every time they do their damn job. If you are concerned that something wrong was done here, file a "freedom of information" request and move on. I hate to break this news to you but... Pretty much every arrest ever made in the history of this country, re an incident similar to this has come without public knowledge or explanation, be it post or prior... The Rule Of Law was followed here.
James R. Pera May 06, 2012 at 12:16 AM
It never ceases to amaze me how all the Monday morning quarterbacks always emerge after an incident of this nature. Most people who make accusations of overreaction have never been under fire by a triple murder suspect, facing the death penalty and armed with military assault rifles. If they had, they'd know that one or two suspects armed with these types of weapons have historically been able to inflict much damage on cops, most of whom are armed with handguns. They'd also know that for an operation of this magnitude to be authorized, there would have been intelligence that the suspect(s) were know to possess these types of firearms and in many cases are also equipped with kevlar. Do any of these "experts" remember the LA Bank Robbery gunfight several years ago? Do any of them remember the Pine and Franklin incident in San Francisco that took the life of Officer James Guelff? People, cops don't get paid to get killed. They get paid to protect society against vicious criminals such as the one that they took into custody the other morning. But go ahead and believe the family members who were protecting, aiding and abetting and hiding this accused triple murderer from the authorities. They'd never tell a lie, right? Yeah, uh, huh.
Goofpod May 06, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Thank you, officers and special agents, for putting your lives on the line to protect mine and my family. I cannot thank you enough. God bless you wounded officers; Godspeed to regaining your health. Thank you so much, you are the very best.
Patrick M. May 06, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Sounds like the cops would be better off sending the bad guy an e-mail asking him to turn himself in at the jail. If that doesn't work, maybe they can send him an e-vite or a facebook message asking him to turn himself in. If he doesn't do it, just call it good and give up. That way there are no noisy helicopters for people to complain about, no shooting, no dogs hurt and the cops can say we tried really hard, but he just won't turn himself in.
Karma May 06, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Maybe she was afraid? You never know unless you were in her shoes what her life was like.
Karina Ioffee May 06, 2012 at 04:35 AM
Ptown. Anonymous sources are an exception, not the norm on Petaluma Patch and have been used in maybe a dozen of articles since we launched in November 2010. We always urge people to go on the record because it improves our credibility and reduces accusations that we are "making stuff up." Yet because we live in a small community, sometimes people are hesitant to outwardly criticize something because they fear negative repercussions for their jobs and/or personal relations. In such situations, we consider whether what the sources say, even anonymously, outweighs not saying it all. So it's a calculation that's applied in each particular situation. Also, if you could give examples where anonymous sources have been wrong, that would be helpful. Thanks.
LongTimeLocal May 06, 2012 at 06:53 AM
Yes, I think it should all be run by the occupy group. It would be a fine example of expertise brought to bear. Our finist minds. Some ultru-comminist group wood be a grate sucksess. Ocuppy now.
Kim May 06, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Really love Ninermom's insight. This reporter should have interviewed her. Right there in the thick of something very scary because of some idiot living next door who is an alleged murderer. Can't believe the ignorant comment in the article that because it was a "two-year old murder," things should have been handled more "quietly." I am guessing if the murder happened last week, it would have been appropriate? You mean age of a case lessens the severity? Unbelievable. I am so sick and tired of law enforcement being critized. We just had a woman shot and her husband killing himself, and law enforcement and a judge were criticized for not doing enough. Well, this time the murderer's alive and they have someone to get, and they do "something" more, and yet again, they are criticized. Enough is enough! Basically, the moral of the story is: DON'T COMMIT CRIMES AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT! THAT IS WHAT WASTES TAXPAYER'S MONEY: CRIME!
The Fool May 06, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Whoa. The only danger is my mindset??? By this, do you mean questioning authority and the use of force? If you believe that's dangerous why have a publicly-accountable police force at all? Why not just shoot anyone you like or fear? The rule of law isn't about guns blazing. It's about following procedures and legal norms, even in highly-charged emotional situations. Especially those, especially those that threaten people or the peace. It is precisely these situations when we need to question. The power of a democracy is not measured when things are pleasant and "working," it is precisely the moment when things get violent or crazy that the test of our system is best applied. And that test starts with hard questions by citizens. This isn't a spectator sport; this isn't armchair quarterbacking. This is called vigilance, a founding principle of our country, however inconvenient it may sound to anyone.
Ptown May 06, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Um, Ned. The cops got shot.
The Fool May 06, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Yes. That happens in law enforcement. No one would dispute it's a dangerous job. But upholding law and order is still, ultimately, up to the people's oversight. Otherwise, we have a dictatorship. I am not disputing the suspects were armed or dangerous. Again, it is precisely under these conditions where the test of civilian oversight is key.
Ann Popovic May 06, 2012 at 06:46 PM
While that's true, don't you think that it makes WAY more sense to collect facts and gather actual information before one starts drumming up accusations and assumptions of guilt? And isn't it possible to ask for information and clarification without sounding accusatory and disrespectful, or...better yet, without automatically assuming that the cops have gone hog-wild, wasted taxpayer money and acted like extras in a Die Hard film? Because surely they didn't say, "HEY! We've got some poor teenager we're gonna bust! And the taxpayers are paying for donuts so...who wants in???" I'm PRETTY sure any reasonable person is going to go, "Hmmmm...free donuts and a possible bullethole in my ass versus...stay home in bed..." Even Krispykremes aren't THAT good. It seems to me that people looked at something they DID NOT UNDERSTAND and decided to think the worst (and shoot off their mouths) rather than just wait until they've heard a full accounting of what actually happened, what was actually at stake and ... yes. BOTH sides of the story.
Ptown May 06, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Ned, why no sympathy for those injured and their families? Too late to show it now, I heard one man may never walk again.
Unbiased May 07, 2012 at 01:16 AM
"Anonymous" sources from here which is obvious it was the editor when making false accusations toward the animal shelter is an example of wrong information. I volunteer at the PAS & worked along side with this supposed "anonymous" voice which is the editor the few times there & all the allegations where completely untrue. True journalism is unbiased which this is certainly not. So overreaction too an ak47, hmm I say not.
The Fool May 07, 2012 at 01:35 AM
Ptown: Anyone--including me--should have sympathy for anyone hurt. This doesn't change my larger point, which seemingly, is now turned to a question of how much pathos should we have for those injured in the line of duty or the victims thereof. My larger question serves to ascertain whether such harm need be caused in the first place. Maybe this all went down exactly according to spec. But to not ask, or to be distracted by an obvious question (um yes, we should all care about each other) only reinforces my point about why upholding the rule of law and in particular, civilian oversight of law enforcement, is so important.
Karina Ioffee May 07, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Unbiased, I'm not sure what you are talking about. It's true that I used to volunteer at the animal shelter, but I never interviewed people while there to volunteer. Also, I'm sure you can appreciate that some employees and/or volunteers would not want to go on the record because of the delicacy of some of the issues or because they have been prevented in speaking with the press. As I said earlier, I would be interested in finding out what information we have written is wrong and happy to correct it if necessary. Please email me directly to set the record straight. If not, please don't accuse me of being unprofessional.
unbiased1 May 07, 2012 at 04:46 AM
It seems to me I'm not alone in those sentiments, nor did I even refer to anyone being interviewed, peace out.
Karina Ioffee May 07, 2012 at 05:14 AM
"is obvious it was the editor when making false accusations toward the animal shelter is an example of wrong information." What does that mean? That I made it up? That is pure slander. And for the record, I don't make accusations, I interview people and report what they tell me.
LongTimeLocal May 07, 2012 at 06:47 AM
Hey, lay off Karina. Sounds like a great thing to do - to volunteer - essentially putting her personal time on the time to help the community. Keep up the good work Karina. You just went up several notches in both credibility and professionalism, as well as helping out the community Karina. Good for you.
LongTimeLocal May 07, 2012 at 06:50 AM
You're a positive part of this community Karina - don't let idiot comments like the above get to you. We all consider the source...
Jane Doe May 07, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Thank you Paul. I am the wife of a local agent (not involved in this, thank god) but it makes me so sad and outraged when I see story after story following tragic events like this questioning the acts/processes of our law enforcement. These are trained professionals who have one mission and one mission only - public service/safety. Local reporters need to remember that media reports are so powerful and frame opinions. There is always going to be a small community of people who oppose law enforcement who are going to vocalize their thoughts, no matter what, but that isn't a reason to write an article like this and with a headline like that because you want to share "all" perspectives. Lives were at stake here and this "conversation" is disrespectful and very, very hurtful for supporting families. I urge Karina to remove this article.

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