Sheriff Miller expresses his condolences to the family in the Greenfield raid
January 13, 2011
Sheriff Scott Miller, who spoke at a news conference at the Sheriff's Office Salinas headquarters Jan. 12 , expressed his regret over the death of 31-year old Rogelio Serrato, who was found unconscious after SWAT officers inadvertently set his family's San Antonio Drive house ablaze as they attempted to serve a search warrant in the Mucky Duck shooting case. Miller said preliminary reports show that Serrato died of smoke inhalation, but noted the investigation continues.
"We never go somewhere hoping people will die," Miller said. "We are here to preserve life."
The Monterey Police Department asked the Sheriff's SWAT team to help serve the warrant because they believed that Serrato had been with accused Mucky Duck shooter Alejandro Gonzalez during the early hours of New Year's Day when Gonzalez is alleged to have wounded three people at the Monterey night club;. Monterey PD Deputy Chief Phil Penko later said Serrato had been misidentified—he was not at the club that night—but he says his department also sought to question a woman, who he declines to identify at the San Antonio Drive home. She wasn't there when officers arrived, but she has since been interviewed, Penko says.
Miller said that officers believed there were weapons at the San Antonio Drive house, and planned to arrest Serrato for two unrelated warrants.
“There was no case of mistaken identity," Miller said, adding that he believes Serrato was acquainted with Gonzalez.
Miller would not say whether officers actually found weapons at the home.
The Sheriff confirmed that officers decided to use a so-called diversionary device, known as a flash-bang, which emits a loud noise and a flash of light, after spending a hour calling for Serrato to come out of the house. He wouldn't say why they decided to use the device, or why they waited only an hour before using it. The fire started when the device was deployed, Miller said, and deputies attempted to put it out.
"I think an hour's a long time," Miller says. "There is no protocol that you follow with a flash-bang...It's part of the normal escalation [of an operation]. Rarely do they set fires."
Still, SWAT experts caution against using flash-bang devices near flammable materials. In the Greenfield case, Miller says, the device that was used likely ignited a sofa; family members say an artificial Christmas tree caught fire.
If you're going to use one, you better have a fire extinguisher handy," says John Gnagey, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania based National Tactical Officers Association.
Greenfield Fire Department Caption Jason Perez, who responded to the fire and drafted the department's report, says the blaze was put out shortly after firefighters arrived at 10:35 am.
But Perez says an ambulance wasn't called until 11:18 am.; Miller declined to give details about the lag time.
He says he the full investigation, which will be turned over to the District Attorney for review, could be completed within the next couple of weeks.