Officer Down: Officer Sergio Carrera
Officer Down: Officer Sergio Carrera - [Rialto, California]
Calif. officer shot during raid, dies
By Maeve Reston and David Kelly
RIALTO, Calif. — A Rialto police officer was shot and killed Thursday as authorities from local and federal agencies swarmed over a troubled stretch of the city serving search warrants for illegal drugs.
Sergio Carrera Jr., 29, a four-year veteran of the force and a member of the SWAT team, was shot in the chest while he and other officers struggled with a man inside one of the targeted homes.
Late Thursday night, Rialto Police Chief Mark Kling announced that they had arrested Jaranard Thomas, 32, of Rialto on suspicion of murder of a police officer.
He said speculation earlier in the day that another SWAT team officer had shot the fallen officer was incorrect. Kling took no questions and said the investigation was ongoing.
Police Capt. Raul Martinez did not offer details on how the shooting occurred. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department was investigating.
Carrera was airlifted to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, where he died. He was married with a 2-year-old son and a year-old daughter.
The incident began about 7 a.m. when neighbors reported smoke, explosions and shouting. SWAT teams from the Colton and Rialto police departments, along with a few agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, raided four homes on West Cascade Drive simultaneously.
Nashalla Bell was in the house with Thomas when the shooting occurred. She said she heard the front door jiggling and was worried it was the same people who did a drive-by shooting of the house Sunday morning.
Bell woke Thomas moments before police burst through the door, she said. Her 3- and 5-year-old sons ran from the kitchen where they were getting ready to eat breakfast. She said the police ordered everyone to the floor at gunpoint.
"I couldn't see anything after that, but apparently my boyfriend got up and ran to the back and another officer went after him," she said. "I heard the shot, and I heard them say, 'Officer down.' "
Neighbors reported seeing a police officer kneeling beside Carrera, crying and embracing him.
Bell said she couldn't believe Thomas shot the officer but said he had been on guard since the drive-by shooting. "I think he probably thought the same thing I thought -- that the people who shot on Sunday was coming back," she said. "I don't think he realized it was the police."
Bell said she could not see who fired the gun or whether her boyfriend had a gun. She said police told her later they recovered firearms from the house. Martinez would not say whether Thomas was armed.
Neighbors described Thomas as nonviolent and a neighborhood chef who cooked soul food in his kitchen and sold it for $10 a plate on weekends.
Myrtle Bush said Thomas held neighborhood cookouts and was planning a surprise birthday party for one of his children later Thursday. "He's more into his kids and wife than anything," said Bush, 58.
Akeyauna Brown, 18, said that when she was at Thomas' home Wednesday braiding his cornrows, he was worried about his family's safety because of the drive-by shooting.
Carrera is the second Rialto policeman to die in the line of duty. An officer was shot and killed at a gas station in 1986.
Police gathered outside department headquarters to comfort one another Thursday. Flags were lowered to half-staff. A number of squad cars, lights flashing, escorted Carrera's body from the hospital to the coroner's office.
"He was a great officer, very well liked, very well respected. It will be extremely difficult for all of us to get over this," Martinez said. "Members of our department are in shock."
City Councilwoman Deborah Robertson met with Carrera's family at the hospital.
"It really hurts that he was a young man who was really outgoing and energetic," she said. "He was fun and everyone loved him."
Robertson said childhood friends of Carrera, who grew up in the Moreno Valley area, rushed to the hospital.
The California Highway Patrol flew his wife to the hospital in a helicopter. "She's in a daze right now," Robertson said. "She is trying to care for her kids as well as support her family."
His death shocked a city struggling to get its police force back on track and trying to rein in a crime problem that has included a recent shooting death of a 16-year-old boy at a mall.
Over the last decade, its own officers have sued the department, accusing it of widespread racism and sexism. It has been criticized for slow response times and failing to curb violent crime. The City Council voted to disband the department last year and let the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department patrol the city of 100,000. A court order overturned that decision.
Robertson said the department had been trying to rebuild. "The morale and camaraderie at the department is great," he said.
Those living on West Cascade Drive tell different stories about the neighborhood. Some say it's under siege by overzealous police; others describe it as a place of drug sales and escalating crime.
Bush said police had made it so uncomfortable to be outside over the last year that she was moving out of the neighborhood.
"They come over here and make this street seem like the worst street in Rialto, which it's not," she said. She said officers believe there is gang activity in the neighborhood because young men gather on the street. But others, including Maria Herrera, said violence in Rialto had become progressively worse since she moved into her home 12 years ago.
There are still bullet holes in the side of her house from a drive-by shooting less than a year ago. "It used to be more relaxed, more calm," Herrera said. "But lately it's been getting a lot of violence."
Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times