Cops Bombed the Wrong Guys, Family Says
VENTURA, Calif. (CN) - A 2-year-old boy was burned by a police smoke bomb in a terrifying "no knock" raid at the wrong home, his family claims in court.
The boy's parents, Jose and Paulina Salinas, sued the City of Oxnard and its Police Department in Superior Court on Monday.
The parents and their three minor children seek damages for assault, battery, trespass, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress.
Jason Benites, assistant chief with the Oxnard Police Department, told Courthouse News in an email that the department could not comment on pending litigation.
However, he sent a press release from April, which reported that a 2-year-old boy had been injured during a "multi-location search warrant operation" conducted by several agencies to combat gang activity.
"At one of the search warrant locations, a 2-year old sustained minor injuries," the statement said. "The child was transported to a local hospital, where he was treated and released."
In their lawsuit, the Salinas family says they were sleeping on April 16, around 4 a.m., when they were awakened by 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. 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 although "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.
A message left for Bamieh at his office was not returned Tuesday.
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 Oxnard, Camarillo and El Rio, the four people arrested were charged with various crimes, including possession of ammunition, being under the influence of a controlled substance and vandalism.