January 12, 2011
The Monterey County Sheriff's Office is investigating a SWAT operation that went wrong Jan. 5 when a Greenfield home was set ablaze and a man inside found dead.
The Sheriff's SWAT team was enlisted to assist the Monterey Police Department, whose officers had obtained a search warrant for the home at 228 San Antonio Drive because they erroneously believed that Rogelio Serrato, who was found dead when the smoke cleared, had been at the Mucky Duck with Alejandro Gonzalez, who allegedly shot and wounded three people at the club that night.
Gonzalez turned himself in to San Jose police Jan. 10. Monterey Police officers picked him up and booked him on three counts of attempted murder and one count of being a felon in possession of a gun and a gang enhancement. Bail was set at $3 million.
The Sheriff's Office has released few details about the Greenfield operation, but Sheriff Scott Miller says he will do so once the office completes its probe.
What is known is that SWAT officers called for Serrato to come out of the house for about an hour before placing a so-called flash-bang device inside. Such devices emit flashes of light and make loud noises that can distract an armed suspect so officers can more easily and safely make an arrest.
Serrato's brother Jorge has said the device set an artificial Christmas tree and sofa ablaze.
The Sheriff's Office has not revealed the cause of the fire, but the Greenfield Fire Department released its report of the incident Jan 11.
Firefighters had been standing by at the request of the Sheriff's Office about a block from the home for about 90 minutes before they received a call at 10:33 am, according to the report by Captain Jason Perez.
The squad arrived just a minute later and found heavy black smoke and flame coming from a front window.
SWAT officers entered the home, along with firefighters, and found Serrato unconscious in a bedoom. They took him to the front lawn where he was given CPR.
Reached by phone, Perez says it didn't take long - "way less than 20 minutes" - to extinguish the blaze, but he says an ambulance wasn't called until some 45 minutes after firefighters arrived.
"We didn't have a scene that was 100 percent secure," Perez says. We needed to take our safety into account...Ultimately the sheriffs were in charge."
An American Medical Response ambulance arrived to administer "advanced life support", but failed to revive Serrato.
Read more about the case in the Jan. 13 print edition of the Weekly.