A Texas family has demanded that the Galveston Police Department issue a public apology after a SWAT team executed a botched raid on their home in the middle of the night.
“We want a public and specific apology to the Rios family,” said lawyer Tony Buzbee during a press conference Wednesday morning, adding that the police had the wrong suspect and the wrong house. Buzbee represents the homeowner and her family, as well as the wrongly-accused suspect who was the subject of the raid.
The botched raid was related to the murder of a 25-year-old man on Jan. 20. The search did not produce the alleged suspect, who was later cleared of charges.
“During the search, officers determined the suspect was not located in the residence. Later, after performing the search, the department received new information contradicting the initial basis for the arrest,” Galveston Public Information Officer Marissa Barnett told The Epoch Times in a statement.
Four days after the search, city officials were alerted to the incident when the story was picked up by a local newspaper.
“The mayor and city manager’s office learned of the search and damage to the homeowners’ property on Friday, Jan. 26, through local news media,” Barnett said.
After reading the story, city leaders placed Galveston Police Chief Doug Balli on 10-day paid administrative leave for “failure of communication.”
The family has also asked for compensation for damages incurred to the home during the raid.
On Jan. 22, Erika Rios, her 16-year-old son, 18-year-old daughter, and her daughter’s friend were awakened at about 2 a.m. to the sound of SWAT team members announcing their arrival.
Rios told reporters that she and her children were traumatized by the events that took place that night.
“I now do not feel safe in my home,” Rios said during Wednesday’s press conference.
The single mom told The Galveston County Daily News that she was sound asleep when the SWAT team started firing wooden pellets into her home.
“I had taken melatonin, and I was in a deep sleep,” Rios said. “My children were trying to wake me up. They were terrified.
“That’s when they started throwing flashbangs into our home,” she continued. “We later found 15 of them that had been used.”
The teens were led outside with their hands in the air and barefoot. The windows had been broken out, so they walked across the shattered glass, Rios said, adding that they had to receive tetanus shots and take antibiotics for their injuries.
Rios said she was dragged outside, where she was handcuffed and detained in a police car along with her son.
“We were all so confused,” Rios told the newspaper.
The police were reportedly searching for Cameron Vargas, 17, who was charged in the shooting death of Malik Dunn, according to officials. Dunn, 25, was shot multiple times at a northwest Houston apartment complex on Jan. 20 and later died.
Charges were dropped a few days later after it came to light that an alleged eyewitness to the murder had falsely identified Vargas.
Rios said Vargas was her son’s friend, and had been at their home prior to the raid, but “he left before midnight and went home.”
“Cameron Vargas lives right down the street, and the police knew this,” Buzbee said. “Certainly, the lead investigator knew that because he knew the family.”
Vargas’s mother, Terry Borell, also spoke to reporters on Wednesday.
“We do not why he was even considered a suspect. Cameron is a hardworking, respectful young man. He does not run the streets. He likes to be at home,” Borell said, adding that he is also due a public apology.
Officers allegedly broke all the windows in Rios’ home, including the windows on her garage door. Police also damaged a fence and the home’s wiring, leaving the family without a way to warm their home, according to a GoFundMe page set up by Borrell.
“I’ve been left with traumatized kids, no heat in my home, and busted windows, all because they were for somebody who doesn’t even live there, who was also innocent,” Rios said in a previous report.
The city’s human resources director and acting Chief of Police Andre Mitchell have opened internal investigations into the circumstances surrounding the incident, Barnett said.
“This type of issue is concerning to everybody,” Mayor Craig Brown told KTRK News. “That’s why we need to be very careful and determine what went on and what the details were, and what prompted this.”
A claim for property damage to Rios’ home has been referred to the city’s insurance company.
Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset told the Houston Chronicle that his office would also conduct an investigation to determine whether proper policy and procedures were followed.
“You don’t need to wait months for reports and reports and reports and reviews of reports and reports to do the right thing,” Buzbee said. “You can do the right thing now and avoid an unnecessary lawsuit.”
The investigation into Dunn’s death is still ongoing.