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Md. police raid wrong apartment


June 08, 2007
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Md. police raid wrong apartment

By Andrea F. Siegel
The Baltimore Sun
 
BALTIMORE, Md. Wearing masks and carrying rifles, Annapolis police officers attempting to execute a search warrant broke down the door of an apartment, set off a percussion grenade that released smoke and a flash of light and noise, and kicked one occupant in the groin.

Then they realized that they were at the wrong address.

The botched raid startled a Salvadoran immigrant couple with limited English who were cooking dinner. They thought their home was being burglarized when about a dozen police officers converged on their Annapolis apartment about 8:20 p.m. Wednesday.

Police acknowledged their error at a news conference last night.

Earlier yesterday, the occupants were still shaken. They cried as they gave their account to a lawyer and a past president of the nonprofit Hispanic assistance organization Centro de Ayuda in the group's offices.

"I cannot even imagine how these people must have felt when they saw these police point their guns at them," Mary Schumaker, a past president of Centro de Ayuda, said yesterday.

She said the raid was terrifying and an outrage, especially for people who moved to the United States from a country once known for violence against its citizens.

She called it particularly troubling for the city's growing Hispanic population as she and others try to build trust between Latino newcomers and authorities.

The woman, Silvia Bernal 30, was handcuffed, and her husband, Elmer Rene Perez, was kicked in the groin.

Police said yesterday that they are investigating what went wrong.

"Through miscommunication and misinformation, the serving of the warrant did not go as planned," the Annapolis Police Department said in a statement.

The couple live in Building 905 of the Spa Cove Apartments on Primrose Road. The search warrant was for the apartment with the same number in Building 901.

Each brick building in the complex has its number on a royal blue awning over the door.

"I do know there was a mistake. That is not good," said Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

Annapolis police spokesman Hal Dalton said a preliminary investigation indicated that a woman tried to barricade the apartment door. Police forced it open and threw in the small grenade designed to startle occupants.

Police apologize

The police quickly realized their error, apologized and left. They called for an ambulance for the woman, who said she felt ill.

Bernal was taken by ambulance to a hospital. She was released later.

Police then went to the apartment listed on the search warrant, where nobody was home and no illegal substances were found, Dalton said.

Schumaker and Carroll McCabe, an attorney who met with the family yesterday, said the couple gave the following account:

Bernal, 30, who said she has a heart problem, was handcuffed, and then placed on the floor before being taken to the hospital. Elmer Perez was kicked in the groin and handcuffed.

During the raid, a couple who share the apartment with Bernal and Perez returned home from grocery shopping and were prevented from entering the apartment.

The woman returning home told police that she was pregnant and the officer replied that he did not care. (Dalton said he could not verify that and that officers are "trained and encouraged to act professional at all times.")

Police who burst into the apartment wore full-face masks and did not identify themselves, the two couples told the lawyer. Officers damaged the couples' personal belongings, including a bed, as they conducted a search that turned up nothing. When police realized their mistake, they asked a resident to sign a piece of paper, but she refused, McCabe said.

The two female occupants said they and Perez were examined at a hospital, but Dalton said he could not confirm that.

Dalton said that in the 15 or so times such mistakes have been made over about three decades, the city has compensated the victims.

The department did not apologize to the couples whose apartment was raided Wednesday, he said.

He said did not know what disciplinary action might be taken against the officers.

Dalton estimated that 12 to 15 officers were involved and that he did know whether any Spanish-speaking officers took part. He said the vice and narcotics unit prepared the warrant and that the Annapolis Special Emergency Team executed it.

`Factually correct'

"The warrant was factually correct," he said. It was part of a continuing investigation, he said.

The department's Hispanic liaison spoke with the couples, Dalton said. As the department reviews its policies and procedures, it will seek input from the Hispanic community, he said.

A resident of the building where the apartment was erroneously raided said yesterday that she was scared when, while she smoked a cigarette on her balcony, police surrounded the building and told everyone to go inside.

"If my kid had been outside playing ... " Rebecca Goss said.

Schumaker contacted McCabe, who said her goal was to protect the couples' interests.

Yesterday, the manager of Five Guys restaurant, where Bernal and the other female occupant work, delivered dinner and flowers as the couples talked to McCabe.

The battered apartment door stood against a trash bin and across from the couples' unit, a new door in its place.
 
Copyright 2007 The Baltimore Sun Company
All Rights Reserved

Full story: Md. police raid wrong apartment





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