RENTON, WA — A SWAT team spent hours firing “mortars, grenades, and teargas canisters” at an empty home. The 4-hour siege destroyed windows, doors, and walls and left the home in ruin. The suspect didn’t even live at the address, and the innocent homeowner was left homeless for months and ultimately was stuck with over $100,000 in repair bills, which the responsible parties have refused to pay.
The wild raid took place on April 25, 2012. Police entered a gated community and surrounded a condo they believed to contain a robbery suspect.
Instead of knocking on the door or getting a visual on the suspect and arresting him, police decided to execute a dramatic siege in a residential neighborhood in hopes of causing anyone inside to surrender. Police surrounded the condo, closed off the street, and evacuated the neighbors.
For four hours, police shot “rockets and grenades filled with pepper gas” at the home, breaking every window and making a mess of everything inside. Teargas was fired from 40-mm canisters into the home, pumping everything inside full of caustic chemicals. After hours of using their toys, SWAT placed explosives on the front door and blew it off the hinges.
Neighbors took videos of the siege from outside, as they were forced to stand around in the rain for over 5 hours after being evacuated from their homes. “Boom, boom, boom,” one neighbor described the explosions.
The SWAT team stormed inside, only to find that no one was inside. The hours-long siege was performed against an empty condo. Melinda De La Torre, the owner, was at work and unaware of what had been done. The SWAT team was attempting to serve an arrest warrant on De La Torre’s adult son.
“If they weren’t sure that someone was in the building, why did they do this?” asked one disturbed neighbor to KIRO.
Glass was shattered everywhere, and exterior walls were riddled with holes where police missed the glass windows. Interior walls and ceilings were marred with holes and stains from the “oozing” red chemical contents which left the home unlivable. The teargas permeated the walls and was still pungent into the next day, even standing outside in the yard. The 40-mm teargas canisters littered the lawns surrounding the property.
Further information would reveal that the raid was even more botched than it appeared. Aside from destroying an empty home, police soon discovered that the suspect they were searching for did not even live at the address. And if that weren’t problematic enough, police were also acting on bad intelligence; the person who made the accusations later recanted the entire story. The man they were looking for was innocent, and never arrested.
When De La Torre approached police about the damages, she says she was dismissively told to file a claim. “Oh I’m sorry, we just destroyed your home; you can just file a claim with the city — like it was just so simple to go down and file.”
Washington Cities Insurance Authority (WCIA) denied De La Torre’s claim. Their position was that SWAT acted reasonably, based on reasonable information, and therefore the city was not at fault.
“They wiped my whole life from underneath me and now I’m trying to pick it up and move on,” she told KIRO 7.
De La Torre added: “They, I feel, used my house as a training facility.”
“That’s pepper spray oozing through the paint on the ceiling,” said De La Torre, who was left homeless for months while her home was unlivable. Even 2 years later, she has not been restored after being placed under enormous burdens.
“I’ve gone into debt to pay for all kinds of things, like windows, and there’s still damage that isn’t fixed. All I want is to be repaid for the damage they made, acting on a false claim,” she said. “After two years, I’ve gotten no response.”
“They turned my whole world upside-down,” said the homeowner. “I just want my money back that I’m out. I shouldn’t be in debt. Period.”
With the overuse of SWAT teams and quickness to use brute force over intelligence, it has become all-too common police to lay siege to innocent homeowners like Ms. De La Torre. Police State USA has covered a number of these stories in the chronicling of the the police state. Click to read more stories of Wrong-Address Raids.
View KIRO’s coverage of De La Torre’s damages below:
Renton Police Department
Phone: (425) 430-7500