The police chief of Galveston, Texas has reportedly been placed on leave in the wake of a botched SWAT raid of the wrong home in search of a teenager falsely accused of murder.
Chief Doug Balli was placed on a 10-day administrative leave while an internal investigation is underway into the Jan. 22 raid that terrified a family and did an estimated $5,000 in damage to their home, the Galveston County Daily News reported.
City Manager Brian Maxwell railed at being blindsided by the police operation that shattered windows, busted in a door, ripped out wiring, and included more than a dozen fired “flash-bangs,” according to the news outlet.
“There was a major breakdown in communication, and we want to figure out why the city was not in the loop,” he said.
The SWAT team was looking for Cameron Vargas, 17, who they believed was involved in the fatal shooting death of 25-year-old Malik Dunn two days before, the local news outlet reported.
But police weren’t at the home of Vargas — who later turned himself in to authorities and had charges against him dropped on Jan. 25.
Instead, police surrounded the home of Erika Rios, who told the news outlet her teenage son and daughter were injured in the raid — and that she was dragged from her home.
“I literally kept asking my son, ‘What’s up? What’s up?’ I had no idea,” Rios told FOX 26. “And he’s like, ‘Mom, I don’t know, I don’t know.’ We were just panicking.”
Rios’ daughter, Chelsea, was placed alone in the back seat of a squad car.
“I was in there for a few minutes,” she told the Fox affiliate. “I was still having anxiety attacks and throwing up. They let me out and then told me they were just looking for Cameron, nothing else.”
But Vargas had left the Rios’ home about two hours before the raid and walked the half-block back to his own home, the Galveston County Daily News reported.
Terry Borrell, Vargas’ mother, in a statement to the Fox affiliate, said she was “completely disappointed in our police department and their investigative process.”
“This was a traumatizing experience that no one should ever have to go through,” she said. “We’re glad the son’s innocence was proven, but he shouldn’t have spent a second in jail. Cameron is an amazing and respectful young man and does not deserve to be slandered and wrongly accused or even considered a suspect.”
Maxwell said he hoped to reinstate Balli as police chief before the end of the 10-day leave, but that will be determined by the length of the investigation.
“We believe this decision is best for both the chief and the city in order to not taint the investigation,” Maxwell said, the Galveston County Daily News reported. “We want to get to the bottom of this and make sure it does not happen again.”
The city’s insurance would cover the cost of damage to the Rios’ home, he told the news outlet.
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