COURSEY: Second-guessing a scary raid
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012 at 1:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 4, 2012 at 1:35 p.m.
Federal agents said they were in Petaluma on Thursday morning to serve a “high-risk” warrant.
It may have been the understatement of the week.
They brought an army into the neighborhood just off of McDowell Boulevard, and — not surprisingly — a war broke out. At least that's what it sounded like to neighbors awakened by gunfire, explosions and helicopters at 4 in the morning.
It's not nice to second-guess, particularly when three law enforcement officers sustained “non-life-threatening” injuries and details about the raid remain murky. But given what we do know, it's hard not to wonder:
Was this really the best way to arrest the guy?
An estimated 40 to 50 law enforcement officers from a variety of federal, state and local agencies gathered in the dark on McNeil Avenue, a blue-collar neighborhood sandwiched between Highway 101 and the Washington Square shopping center. They wore camouflage and flak jackets, helmets and face masks. They were heavily armed and accompanied by a huge black armored “rescue” vehicle brought in on the back of a tractor-trailer rig.
Colloquially, they were loaded for bear.
As I said, details of what happened are murky, and the feds have done little to clear them up. The special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations unit in San Francisco said, “These agents were wounded when they encountered a barrage of gunfire from an assault rifle while executing this search warrant.”
He offered no information about who wielded that assault rifle, nor would he comment on any other nagging questions about the raid. All we really know is that three law officers got shot, one suspect got arrested and a big dog got killed.
The guy who got arrested in Petaluma is — apparently, but the feds wouldn't exactly confirm this, either — 20-year-old Victor Flores. Authorities said he is a gang member who was involved in a triple-homicide in South San Francisco in 2010. They said the pre-dawn Petaluma raid was one of 11 such actions that took place around the Bay Area on Thursday to arrest people involved in those killings.
So, OK. The feds figured they were dealing with bad people who probably had guns and were willing to use them. But I'll ask the question again: Was this the best way to arrest Flores?
I can't help but compare this to another story that has made multiple headlines this week — the recovery of celebrity chef Guy Fieri's $200,000 Lamborghini and the arrest of 17-year-old Max Wade of San Rafael, who was also wanted in connection with a drive-by shooting.
You know, a bad guy with guns who wasn't afraid to use them.
Marin County Sheriff's detectives figured out where Wade lived, put the house under surveillance and followed him to a storage container in Richmond, where they found the car, along with assault rifles and ammunition, among other things. Wade was arrested without any explosions, helicopters or gunfire.
An unfair comparison? I honestly can't say, because I don't know everything that the cops know about these two cases. But 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.
If I were a resident of McNeil Avenue, watching FBI agents dig bullets out of cars and fences in my neighborhood in the aftermath of Thursday's raid, I'd be asking this question about that warrant:
“High-risk” to whom?
(Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.)
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