A Galveston police SWAT team raided the wrong home while looking for a teenager who turned out to be falsely accused of murder.
The January 22 raid occurred just before 2 a.m. and reportedly caused more than $5,000 in damage, homeowner Erika Rios told The Daily News. Rios alleged police dragged her out of her home while her teenage son, daughter, and a visiting friend were injured and traumatized.
The SWAT team shattered windows, broke down a door, tore out wiring, and fired 15 “flashbangs,” Rios said.
“I literally kept asking my son, ‘What is going on? What is going on?’ I had no idea,” Rios told Fox 26 Houston. “And he’s like, ‘Mom, I don’t know, I don’t know.’ We were just in a panic.”
Rios added that her daughter Chelsea was put in the back of a police car.
“I was in there for a couple minutes,” Chelsea said. “I was still having anxiety attacks, and I needed to throw up. They let me step out, and they then told me they were only looking for Cameron, nothing else.”
Police were looking for Cameron Vargas, 17, who had an arrest warrant for his alleged involvement in the January 20 shooting death of Malik Dunn, 25. However, Vargas was not at the home when SWAT executed the raid.
Vargas’ father said his son had left Rios’ home about two hours before the raid and walked half a block back to his house.
Vargas’ warrant was based on an “eyewitness” statement. He turned himself in the day after the raid and was held on a $250,000 bond.
Two days later, the charges against him were dropped, and no other arrests have been made in Dunn’s murder.
“We are completely disappointed in our police department and in their investigative process,” said Terry Borrell, Vargas’ mother, in a statement provided to Fox 26. “This has been a traumatizing experience that no one should ever go through. We are glad our son’s innocence was proven, but he should have not spent one second in jail. Cameron is an amazing and respectful young man and did not deserve to be slandered and wrongfully accused or even seen as a suspect.”
“The police wasted valuable time and resources on the wrong person,” she continued. “I hope that for the victims sake, and his family, they find the real murderer and go after the real criminals who lied to police and wrongfully accused my son.”
Galveston Police Chief Doug Balli is on a 10-day administrative leave, and the police department is conducting an internal investigation, City Manager Brian Maxwell said Saturday.
The City of Galveston is also conducting a separate investigation into how the raid was allowed to happen.
“There was a major breakdown in communication and we want to figure out why the city was not in the loop,” Maxwell said. “This decision was solely based on the lack of communication and not related to the raid.”
“We need to figure out if the communication lapse was just a lack of oversight or whether there was intent, which I do not believe to be the case,” Maxwell added. “I am a stickler for communication and I do not appreciate being kept out of the loop.”
Maxwell, Mayor Craig Brown, and Councilman Michael Bouvier, who represents District 4, where the raid took place, said they were unaware the operation was going to happen.
Assistant Chief Andre Mitchell is serving as police chief in the interim while Balli is on leave, said Maxwell, adding that he hopes to reinstate Balli before his 10-day suspension ends. However, this will depend on how long the investigation takes to complete.
“We believe this decision is best for both the chief and the city in order to not taint the investigation,” Maxwell said. “We want to get to the bottom of this and make sure it does not happen again.”
According to Maxwell, the city’s insurance would cover the cost of Rios’ damages, but she would need to fill out forms and speak with the city’s risk manager to get reimbursed.