Mucky Duck Probe
Investigators try to determine what went wrong in death of misidentified man.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
More than a week after a Monterey County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team descended on a quiet Greenfield neighborhood to help the Monterey Police Department serve a search warrant, sheriff’s investigators are probing what went wrong in the operation that left a 31-year old father of four dead and his family’s home a charred ruin.
The Monterey PD sought to question Rogelio Serrato because they believed he had accompanied suspected Mucky Duck shooter Alejandro Gonzalez in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, when Gonzalez is alleged to have wounded three people at the downtown Monterey club.
Gonzalez turned himself into to San Jose police Jan. 10.
Two nights after the raid, a nearly decade old, poster-sized picture of Serrato carrying his then-baby daughter on his shoulders hung on a boarded-up window as about a hundred friends and family members held candles, prayed and tearfully remembered the father of four as “a beautiful guy” and someone “who would do anything for anyone.”
“Don’t judge him because he got in trouble with the law,” says Elda Serrato, his aunt.
Family members insisted Serrato was not at the Mucky Duck the night of the shooting, a fact confirmed by Monterey PD Deputy Chief Phil Penko, who says Serrato had been misidentified.
Sheriff’s officers did plan to arrest Serrato, however, for two misdemeanor warrants that had been issued in unrelated cases. According to one family member, he was likely hiding as SWAT officers surrounded his home and called over a bullhorn for more than an hour for him to come out. A woman, whose name has not been released by police, did emerge from the home, and according to Sheriff Scott Miller, told officers that she didn’t think anyone was inside.
“They knew for sure when someone saw him through a window while the fire was going on,” Miller says. “The house filled with smoke rapidly,” he notes, describing Sheriff’s deputies who entered the home as heroic.
So far the Sheriff’s Office has not given a full account of the raid, and questions remain about how and why deputies used a flash-sound diversionary device, or flash bang, which family members say caused the house to go up in flames. Some have questioned why officers didn’t wait longer before deploying the device.
The Sheriff’s Office has not revealed the official cause of the blaze. However, CAL Fire arson investigator Cliff Williams said Jan. 7 that he was already completing an investigation he conducted at the Sheriff’s Office request.
Flash bang devices emit flashes of light and loud pops and can distract a potentially dangerous suspect or draw a suspect out in the open so that he can be arrested more safely, says Capt. Phil Hansen of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, a SWAT veteran who serves on the board of the National Tactical Officers Association, a SWAT-training group.
“They’re a life-saving tool,” Hansen says. But he adds, “If you know you have highly flammable material (nearby), you wouldn’t want to toss it in.”
Serrato’s brother Jorge Serrato said on Jan. 6 that the device caught the family’s artificial Christmas tree and living room sofa on fire. But the following day, he declined to add details. He said he believed his father had hired an attorney and says he’d been told not to offer any further information about the case.
A report by Capt. Jason Perez of the Greenfield Fire Department released Jan. 11 shed some light on what occurred after the fire broke out. Police had alerted firefighters to the operation and requested they stand by the morning of the raid. They were at the ready a block from the home when they were called at 10:33am. Perez describes what he saw at the scene in his narrative as “… heavy black smoke with flame coming from the front living room window… ”
“I was notified that there might be someone inside of the structure,” writes Perez. With SWAT officers providing cover, Perez says he “was able to knock down the majority of the fire from the living room window.” Firefighters entered the home, as did SWAT officers, in search of a possible victim.
Perez, reached by phone, says it didn’t take him long to extinguish the blaze. “It was way less than 20 minutes.” Perez says he can’t say why an ambulance wasn’t called until 11:18am, 45 minutes after firefighters arrived.
“We didn’t have a scene that was 100 percent secure… ultimately the sheriffs were in charge,” he says.
Serrato was found in a bedroom, and a fire crew got him to the front lawn where he was given CPR. An ambulance arrived and began “advanced life support,” but the report does not say when the ambulance arrived or for how long they attempted to revive Serrato.
Sheriff Scott Miller says he’ll personally offer a full account of the incident once all the reports are in. “Let us finish the investigation,” Miller says. “We’re in the middle. We’re not at the end.”
But Hansen argues the Sheriff’s Office should tell the public what it knows sooner rather than later. “I would think particularly if you felt very justified by what occurred you’d want to get your message out.”
In addition to Williams’ fire investigation, Sheriff’s detectives are interviewing officers involved and reviewing their actions. The office is also conducting a policy investigation and awaiting toxicology results, which could take up to six weeks, before completing a coroner’s report.
“In this case, toxicology results might explain why he didn’t come out,” Miller notes. “Maybe he was unconscious.”