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COURSEY: Asking an unpopular question about the Petaluma raid

Despite the popularity of the bumper sticker, our society really doesn't encourage us to "question authority."

Especially when that authority is "the authorities," i.e. our law enforcement infrastructure.

That message was driven home to me loudly and clearly after I wrote a blog that also ran in the print edition of The Press Democrat earlier this month that questioned the wisdom and the tactics of law enforcement in a scary and violent May 3 raid in Petaluma.

Federal Raid In Petaluma

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You might remember the incident. Some 40 to 50 heavily armed federal agents and police officers in military garb gathered before 4 a.m. in a residential neighborhood off of McDowell Boulevard, apparently to serve search and arrest warrants at a McNeil Avenue house occupied by Victor Flores, 20, who authorities described as a gang member involved in a triple homicide in 2010 in South San Francisco.

Details are murky about exactly what happened in those pre-dawn hours, because there has been little official disclosure from the government agencies involved. But from witness accounts, we know this: As the neighborhood slept, the agents apparently set off flash-bang grenades and stormed into the home, where "they encountered a barrage of gunfire from an assault rifle," according to an official from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which participated in the raid.

Three agents were wounded in the ensuing gunfight, all with what were described as "non-life-threatening injuries." One suspect was arrested and a dog was killed.

To date, federal officials have refused to discuss specifics of the raid, including whether they believe Flores shot the three agents or, if he did not, who did.

In my blog, I questioned the tactics of the agencies that flooded a neighborhood with personnel and equipment and then engaged a suspect in a wild gunfight in the middle of the night. I wondered whether there might have been a better way to arrest the suspect (who, it turned out, had made a court appearance just the week before). I suggested it was lucky that more people weren't hurt.

"My God man, you really need to shut the hell up."

That was one of the comments I received on-line and by e-mail in reaction to my questions, and it summed up the tone of many more.


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