A 2-year-old California boy was burned and traumatized by a police smoke bomb in a botched “no-knock” raid at the wrong home, his family claims in a lawsuit.
The boy’s parents, Jose and Paulina Salinas of Ventura County, sued the City of Oxnard and its Police Department in Superior Court on Monday, according to Courthouse News Service.
The Salinas family seeks damages for assault, battery, trespass, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress from the botched raid. The raid occurred at 4 a.m. on April 16 while the family was sleeping.
Jason Benites, assistant chief with the Oxnard Police Department, refused to comment on pending litigation.
A police press release from April briefly mentioned that a 2-year-old boy had “sustained minor injuries” in the operation but did not say how the injuries occurred or that the child had been burned by a police smoke bomb. Police threw a smoke bomb into his bedroom during a “multi-location search warrant operation” by several agencies targeting suspected gang members. The agencies involved included local police, the district attorney’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation with the stated goal of reducing “gun violence” in Oxnard “through education, intervention, and enforcement,” according to the news release.
The case is similar to an incident that occurred in Habersham County, Georgia, on May 28 when a 19-month-old boy was severely burned in a botched no-knock raid on his family’s house. In that case, sheriffs deputies threw a flash-bang grenade into little Bou Bou Phonesavanh’s crib, blowing off his nose and burning his face and chest, which has required him to undergo more than $1 million worth of surgeries and treatment. Habersham County has to date refused to pay for the toddler’s medical expenses. Like in the California case, the Georgia deputies found no drugs or guns in the house. They arrested the targeted suspect hours later at another house for possession of a small amount of methamphetamine.
A grand jury deliberated over the case as presented by the district attorney but, as WND reported on Oct. 6, decided not to indict the Habersham Sheriff’s Office on any criminal charges. Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell previously told WND that the grenade tossing was a mistake. The deputy who threw the grenade has since resigned from the department.
In the wake of the “Bou Bou” case, State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Ga., has been trying to reform Georgia’s laws to rein in the use of “no-knock” warrants. A pregnant Clayton County woman was injured during a 2010 SWAT raid in Georgia and 92-year-old Kathryn Johnson was shot and killed in Atlanta, eight years ago today on Nov. 21, 2006, when a SWAT team burst into her home in a botched no-knock raid in which they had targeted the wrong home.
“Civil rights groups have chronicled dozens of other such cases in recent years where SWAT-type police with an overzealous mindset have mistakenly injured or killed innocent Americans – mistakes that are most often chalked up as little more than oops,’ absent any repercussions to the offending officers,” wrote crime journalist Cheryl Chumley in a recent column for WND.
In the California lawsuit, the Salinas family says they were awakened by the sound of scuffling footsteps and vehicles outside their condominium. When Jose Salinas drew the curtains of his bedroom window, he saw the barrel of a policeman’s gun pointed at him.
Police broke the front windows of the home and set off three smoke bombs. Police then crashed through the front door with guns drawn, yelling, “Get down and put your hands to your head!”
With laser guns pointed at them, Paulina and Jose Salinas were handcuffed and put to their knees, Courthouse News Service reported. Their 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son were shoved into a corner.
As police approached one of the bedrooms, Paulina Salinas and her two older children told officers there was a 2-year-old in the room. Police ignored them, told them to cover their ears, and threw a smoke bomb into the room as 2-year-old Justin Salinas stood near the door.
When the smoke bomb detonated, shrapnel from the blast hit Justin in the foot, causing first-degree burns and glass cuts.
The family was detained for four hours but “there was no resemblance of any claimant to any of the previous tenants at the location,” according to the complaint.
The statement from Oxnard police does not say whether the boy’s home was wrongly targeted. Three adults and one juvenile were arrested in the three-city operation, and police afterward were still looking for three suspects with felony arrest warrants. A research database examined by Courthouse News Service shows that one of those suspects, Frank Ruiz, 32, once lived in the condo the Salinas family occupied.
The Salinas family had moved there roughly four months before the raid, according to the lawsuit.
“The incident left each member of the Salinas family physically and emotionally shaken, traumatized and in constant fear for their safety,” according to the complaint, filed by Ron Bamieh, a former Ventura County prosecutor now with Ventura law firm Bamieh & Erickson. “They now feel that their home is a dangerous place to live and are scared to death and rattled by any noise they hear at night.”
Justin is “afraid of the dark and of people in general,” while the other two children “suffer recurring nightmares, and are terrified of sleeping alone,” the lawsuit states.
Damage to the home included broken windows, a door ripped off its frame and walls stained by smoke and burn marks.
Police conduct an estimated 80,000 “no-knock” raids every year, usually carried out in the middle of the night by heavily militarized SWAT teams. When SWAT teams were introduced in the early 1980s, there were only about 3,000 “no-knock” raids carried out per year, according to estimates by experts such as John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and a constitutional attorney.
The search warrant operation was conducted by the Oxnard Police Department, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, investigators from the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office and the FBI in an effort to crack down on gang members believed to have guns, according to the Oxnard police. During the operation, conducted in the cities of Oxnard, Camarillo and El Rio, four people were arrested on charges of possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, being under the influence of a controlled substance and vandalism.