Monterey County has agreed to pay a family $2.6 million after police conducted a military-like raid on the home of an innocent man and burned down the home with the man inside while blocking fire trucks rushing to the scene. Rogelio “Roger” Serrato, 31, died at the scene and left a family with four children without a father.
We have been following how police departments have used terrorism funds and grants to buy military equipment and expand SWAT team raids (and here and here and here and here and here and here) for even small alleged crimes. Even the Department of Education is ordering military like raids.
In this case, the Monterey County Sheriff’s SWAT team hit Serrato’s home on suspicion of being involved in a non-fatal shooting (he turned out to be entirely innocent). They drove an armored Lenco Bearcat on to his lawn and surrounded it with paramilitary officers. When he did not come out, they hit the house with a flash bang grenade that caught furniture and a Christmas tree on fire. An officer approached the burning home with a fire extinguisher but they spotted Serrato in his shorts in the living. Shouting “suspect,” he withdrew with the fire extinguisher. The officers retreated to the armored vehicle and kept their guns pointed at the house as Serrato was reportedly heard screaming. Officers watched the house burn as fire crews were blocked by their vehicles in getting to the scene.
Despite this record, County Counsel Charles McKee insisted that the officers acted as true heroes: “They put their lives at stake in trying to secure the property and they should be commended for trying to resolve a very tense situation.” They should be commended for starting a fire and then watching a man burn inside while blocking fire trucks? I am not saying that the officers wanted the house to burn or that they could have foreseen the fire. However, their actions after the fire seem less commendable as demonstrated by the large damage award. Yet, no officers were punished for these actions.
The county’s insurance carrier settled the lawsuit without admitting any wrongdoing.