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3 wounded in raid on Petaluma home


Three Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are expected to survive gunshot wounds suffered during a pre-dawn confrontation Thursday that jolted an east Petaluma neighborhood.

"These agents were wounded when they encountered a barrage of gunfire from an assault rifle while executing this search warrant," Clark Settles, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in San Francisco, said at a news conference in South San Francisco.

Federal authorities declined to give specifics on how the agents were shot, where they were at the time, what their wounds are and who shot them.

The operation was one of 11 coordinated raids in the Bay Area aimed at gang activity and specifically a 2010 triple homicide in South San Francisco.

Victor Flores, 20, of Petaluma was among 13 people arrested during the sweep, but U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag would not say whether he was the suspect who arrested in Petaluma after the exchange of gunfire.

Flores is named in a federal indictment accusing him of murder in the 2010 killings. He is identified as a member of a gang operating less than a mile from the South San Francisco municipal center.

The boom of gunfire — and possibly an explosion — erupted at about 4 a.m. Thursday when heavily armed federal agents arrived to serve "high-risk" arrest warrants at the home at 1325 McNeil Ave., across South McDowell Boulevard from the Washington Square Shopping Center, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.

Forty to 50 law enforcement agents in military garb were lined up on McNeil Avenue to enter the home, said neighbors Joey Sullivan and Kolubah Dukuly, who live two doors from the weathered, gray-blue house.

Katie Behrs, who also lives in the neighborhood, said she and her husband were awakened by loud bangs, presumably from the flash-bang devices officers agents often use to distract and surprise a suspect as they enter a building.

Gunfire followed.

Agents dragged their wounded colleagues to cover behind a massive armored truck parked at an angle in the street, said Chris Flanary, a neighbor who watched the raid from the nearby sidewalk.

"A lady paramedic was saying, &amp;&lsquo;Focus, focus, keep your eyes on me,'<TH>" Flanary said.

Shortly after, other agents brought a man out of the house and kept him handcuffed on the lawn, yelling at him to stay where he was, Flanary said.

The man was brought out shirtless and without shoes, wearing basketball shorts, Behrs said.

"He was screaming, &amp;&lsquo;I didn't do anything,'<TH>" she said.

About 20 minutes later, there was a second volley of shots, Behrs said.

"They were screaming, &amp;&lsquo;Come out with your hands up,'<TH>" in English and Spanish, Behrs said. "It was intense."

Medical personnel were sent to the home at 4:10 a.m., emergency dispatchers said. A REACH helicopter landed on McDowell Boulevard to transport the most severely wounded agent to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Two ICE agents were transported by ambulance to Memorial and Petaluma Valley Hospital, dispatchers said.

None of the agents' injuries were life-threatening, Kice said, although she declined to elaborate.

"I hear they're OK," one special agent at the scene told reporters.

It was unclear who lived in the house east of Highway 101, where an SUV and a boat were parked in the driveway. Some neighbors described a man in his late 20s or early 30s and a woman and two young children, while others said they knew only that at least one adult male lived in the home.

Sullivan and Dukuly said cars came and went from the house frequently, sometimes double-parking in the street.

"To be honest, I thought they were selling weed out of the house, but obviously something more crazy was going on," Sullivan said.

In the aftermath of the shooting, large plate glass windows across the front of the house were in pieces and a chunk of the garage door had been cut out. The huge, black armored vehicle with Homeland Security markings and a large, shiny black SUV remained in the street out front, surrounded by dozens of law enforcement personnel and vehicles. The street was blocked off for hours.

A tan, beefy dog lay dead in the back yard, where two heavily armed federal agents — one with a face mask pulled over his lower face — stood guard.

Through a breezeway into the back of the neighboring Best Western/Petaluma Inn, ICE and Homeland Security Investigations agents were using a hotel room to debrief witnesses, manager Bob Everhart said.

The raid awakened most in the neighborhood, beginning with the initial explosion, which one hotel guest said created several large flashes of light.

Dukuly and Sullivan, who live on the corner of McNeil and South McDowell, were told they had to get out, but most residents were told to remain in their homes.

Everhart said anyone in the hotel not awakened by the explosion and gunfire would have been awakened by the REACH helicopter that landed just outside.

Hotel guest John Stickle, 64, of Watsonville said he saw a guest start to leave his room just as three law enforcement agents, shoulder-to-shoulder with firearms at the ready strode down the darkened parking lot and angrily ordered back inside.

"It was really bedlam," said Stickle, who was in town house hunting.

The neighborhood "was pretty much on lockdown," Everhart said.

McNeil Avenue resident Caroline Uland, who lives a block west of the crime scene, said hearing helicopters overhead in the wake of the explosion and gunfire suggested a suspect might be on the loose.

"It was kind of frightening," she said. "But I figured if it was dangerous, they would tell us."