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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.

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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