GALVESTON, Texas — A Galveston family is demanding answers after their home was damaged in a SWAT raid last month.
On Wednesday, the family and their attorneys asked for the city of Galveston to pay for the damages and publicly apologize for the raid. They want those things done by Friday.
Galveston police said they were searching for a teenage homicide suspect when they showed up at Erika Rios' house on Avenue O in the early-morning hours of Jan. 22. Rios said she and her two teenage kids were home sleeping when they were woken up around 2 a.m. by police yelling outside.
Rios said the officers yelled a couple of times for them to come out and then started shooting wooden pellets through the windows of the house. Police broke windows and doors and dragged her out of her own home while looking for 17-year-old Cameron Vargas, who didn't even live at the house. Vargas lives a few houses away from the Rios family.
"What they did to me and my family was wrong. What they did to our family traumatized my family and my son," Rios said. "My house isn’t a mansion, but it is mine and now they destroyed it. I am asking Galveston, Texas, to do the right thing."
No one was arrested during the raid but the Rios family was left to pick up the pieces.
Rios' children are friends with Vargas. Police thought he was their main suspect in a murder case, but as it turns out, police were wrong again. The murder charge against Vargas was dropped.
"We were glad we were able to prove his innocence, but my son is also due a public apology," Vargas' mother, Terry Borrel, said.
Attorneys said the mistakes don't stop there. A warrant for Vargas' arrest was signed on Jan. 21, the day before the raid. That same day, Rios was pulled over with her children and Vargas in the car. Attorneys want to know why Vargas wasn't arrested then -- before the raid even happened.
"Wrong guy, wrong house and went overboard," attorney Tony Buzbee said.
"We have been apprised of Mr. Buzbee’s demand to the City.
"Chief Balli and the Galveston Police Department insist the incident involving the deployment and actions of the SWAT team at the house in the 5300 block of Avenue O were done in compliance with applicable laws, department policies & procedures, and with a valid warrant.
"The Acting Police Chief in coordination with City Management has requested the Galveston County Sheriff’s Department conduct an independent investigation of the matter to determine whether there was any deviation from the law, policies, procedures or the warrant(s) by GPD.
"Until that investigation has been completed and a report has been reviewed by the City, any comment would be premature. The City has initiated a claim with its insurance carrier and the City’s Risk Manager will be contacting the attorney representing the property owner to assist them in assessing their claim."
On Jan. 20, Galveston police said officers responded to 39th Street near Broadway Avenue J after getting reports of shots fired.
When officers arrived, they found Malik Dunn, 25, who had been shot multiple times. He was taken to an area hospital where he died, police said.
Days later, Vargas was taken into custody on a murder charge, which was ultimately dropped.
Chief on leave
Galveston City Manager Brian Maxwell placed Balli on a 10-day administrative leave in the wake of the raid. An internal investigation into Balli's conduct was also ordered.
"Specifically, city administration is investigating a failure of communication surrounding a search performed in the early morning hours of January 22," the department said in a release.
Assistant Police Chief Andre Mitchell served as acting chief during Balli's leave.