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.
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.