Skip to comments.Officers raid wrong house - Resident says family traumatized
Posted on 05/25/2005 9:04:12 PM PDT by ambrose
Officers raid wrong house - Resident says family traumatized
By: WILLIAM FINN BENNETT - Staff Writer
MURRIETA ---- When Mapleton resident Rodolfo Celis heard a knock on his door last Saturday night, he said he never suspected anything was amiss.
That is, until he opened the door and looked down the barrel of a rifle.
Several Murrieta police officers then entered his home in the 33500 block of Eugenia Lane, he said. They herded the 54-year-old father and five of his family members, including two young children, into the living room and sat them on a couch at gunpoint, he added.
"They didn't even show me a warrant or ask permission, they just pointed rifles," Celis said, adding that the officers then proceeded to search the house and garage for a suspect and automatic weapons.
The six officers believed a parolee armed with automatic weapons was inside the home and that was the reason they entered the house without a warrant, Murrieta police Lt. Bob Davenport said Friday.
"He was considered armed and dangerous," Davenport said. And in cases of that type, a search warrant is not necessary, the lieutenant said, adding that "at some point," Celis gave them permission to search the remainder of the house.
There was just one problem. They had the wrong house.
The Celis home is next door to the house officers intended to search, Davenport said.
The events leading up to officers arriving at Celis' home began earlier Saturday. Murrieta officers received word that a black sport utility vehicle ---- with automatic weapons and other guns inside ---- was parked in front of a Temecula home. The report from their Temecula counterparts indicated that officers believed the vehicle belonged to an at-large parolee, who was listed as living at the house next door to the Celises in Murrieta.
When officers arrived on Eugenia around 9 p.m. Saturday, they thought that the man they were looking for was armed and dangerous. They counted the houses from the corner of Mapleton Street and Eugenia Lane and believed that the numbering sequence of the houses on the street indicated that Celis' house was the right address, although the darkness may have made it difficult to check the exact number on the house, Davenport said.
"They couldn't light it up with a flashlight to verify the numbers, because that would put them at a tactical disadvantage," he said.
As they walked toward what they thought was the right home, they saw a black sports utility vehicle parked in the driveway.
Asked whether the officers had checked to see if the license plate matched the one at the Temecula address, Davenport said he was not sure whether Murrieta officers had a license plate number for the SUV seen in Temecula.
The lieutenant said there was also some uncertainty as to whether the license plate number that was reported in fact belonged to the SUV or another vehicle that had been towed away from the same address about 30 days before. But the SUV did match the description of the one seen at the Temecula address, he said.
"All the SUV does is verify in their minds that they are at the right house," Davenport said. "It was just a piece, but not a critical part of the puzzle."
Officers also were suspicious when they heard people talking in the Celis' garage, he added.
"They assumed they had the right location," he said.
He confirmed that Celis told the officers that the man they were looking for, Johnny Lopez, 25, had never lived at his house. Celis told the officers that a man matching Lopez's description had lived next door.
"Not until they left the house did they realize that the address didn't match," Davenport said.
Celis said his family is still traumatized by what happened. The memory of having guns pointed at his entire family won't fade easily, he added.
His 15-year-old son was terrified, Celis said. Seeing the boy's fear that night, Celis said he felt powerless and mortified that he could do nothing to protect him.
"When I saw my son's face, I felt ashamed because I wasn't doing what a dad is supposed to do," Celis, 54, said. "I felt like I should have protected my kids."
Celis' son Rudy said that on the night of the raid, he came into the living room to see what the commotion was and, "they told me to put my hands up; they searched me and were asking, 'Where is Johnny Lopez?'"
Rudy's sister-in-law, Jennifer Celis, said she couldn't believe that the family was treated like common criminals.
"They were pointing rifles at us," she said.
When Jennifer asked the officers why they had come to their house, that night, "they kept telling us to shut up, shut up and wouldn't tell us what they were looking for."
Now, Celis is thinking about hiring an attorney to look into the matter, he said.
"I am not looking for any money, but I would like to at least alert the community so they know we're not criminals," Celis said. "I would like the Police Department, before they do something like that again, to make sure they are going to the right house."
He said he can't help but wonder whether the officers came to his home because his family is the only Latino family living on the street. A group of Latino people lived in the house where the officers were supposed to go Saturday night, Celis said. But he added that those people moved out of the neighborhood a few months ago.
"I think they saw my family coming in and out of the house and because we are the only Latino family on the block, they thought this was the place," he said.
Davenport denied that race played any role in what happened.
He said that when the officers approached the home, they had no idea that a Latino family was living there.
"Of course it was a mistake, but they were under the assumption that they were at the right house and were within their legal bounds," he said. "That's a mistake we will explain (to Celis) and apologize for; we are all human and are going to err on occasion."
Asked if the mistake will generate any policy or procedural changes within the department, Davenport said: "We are going to review what happened and make a decision on what to do in the future."
On Friday afternoon a police sergeant who participated in the search called Celis to apologize for the mistake.
"I accepted his apologies, but I keep thinking what would have happened if one of my kids had gotten scared and tried to run ---- somebody could have been shot," Celis said.
Contact staff writer William Finn Bennett at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 2624, or email@example.com.
Did the cops look like this?
We're from the government and we're here to help you.
heh...8 seconds apart!
Beat you to it!
Yikes. There would be hell to pay if that happened in my house.
So what kind of tactical advantage does one gain by raiding the wrong house?
What they need to be asking is "what steps are being taken to keep this from happening again?"
But hey...that would require solving a problem instead of milking the "outrage."
Why should a cop who conducts a raid which is not even facially authorized by a warrant be regarded as anything other than an armed home-invasion robber? Start holding cops accountable and I don't think it will take long before they start insisting upon checking certain details of any raid in which they take part.
I agree with you. Murrieta/Temecula are my neighbors and are growing cities. It seems crime is increasing or just being reported on more. Yes, mistakes happen. I'm sure these officers aren't laughing about it. I'm a bit defensive about our law enforcement because of the local news always showing certain groups of people coming down on our officers when they injure a criminal by defending themselves. My local news is all Los Angeles. These officers are damned if they do and dead if they don't.
Well, at least they knocked this time. Now, if they could only work on the part where they show the warrant, explain why they are there, and double-check the address, folks would be a lot less edgy.
One of these days a SWAT member is going to get one right between the headlights from a homeowner who believes their house is under assault by home-invasion robbers.
I don't know what a distict attorney would do to the poor bastard who unwittingly kills a cop under such circumstances, but I certainly have my suspicions.
If that happened the DA wouldn't have to worry, the occupants would all be dead.
Why are cops who raid a home in a manner which is not even facially justified by a warrant regarded as anything other than home-invasion robbers?
There was a case in Malibu several years back... Man woke up to hear people busting into his house. He pulled out his gun and went to see what was happening... The intruders wwere cops, serving a warrant based on a bogus claim that there was pot at the house. Cops shot the homeowner dead.
LA District Attorney refused to prosecute. The Ventura District Attorney investigated and determined that the cops raided the home out of a desire to seize it for cash (police departments get to keep the proceeds from drug related seizures)
This is not the country I grew up in.
Personally, I think a little bit more information than "a black SUV in the driveway" is needed.
How many black SUV's are there in any given neighborhood? My neighbors on both sides each have black SUV's! LOL
Make/model, tag, address. If their family's lives depended on this information being known...they'd find a way to confirm it.
A million dollars for everyone in the house is a good start at an apology.
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