Pubdate: Fri, 15 Sep 2000
Source: Modesto Bee, The (CA)
Copyright: 2000 The Modesto Bee
Author: Crystal Carreon
Bookmark: additional articles on Alberto Sepulveda are available at and articles on meth are 
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How did this happen?

That question haunted the family of 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda on 
Thursday, a day after he was killed in his Modesto home during a federal 
narcotics sweep.

It tormented a police force whose veteran SWAT team member fired the 
shotgun blast.

And it troubled a relatively peaceful community where never before has a 
child been killed by a police officer.

Police released no new information Thursday about what happened inside the 
small house at 2524 McAdoo Ave. early Wednesday. Federal agents had gone to 
the home to arrest the boy's father on drug charges.

Police Chief Roy Wasden restated that the shot from officer David Hawn's 
shotgun was an accident, but he offered no estimate on when more 
information would be released. He explained that confidentiality was 
necessary to protect Hawn's rights.

The four separate investigations, routinely conducted in officer-involved 
shootings, could take several weeks to complete, the chief said. Many 
members of the community want answers sooner than that.

"I'm not going to wait three months for the investigations to be 
completed," said Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino. "I think the longer we 
wait, the more suspicious people will become.

"But it only happened 24 hours ago. In view of our past history, it's 
important we don't make the mistakes we've made in the past and (we need 
to) guarantee a full investigation of what happened and an accurate report 
to the people in a timely fashion."

The shooting devastated a police force recovering from its gun sale scandal.

"The officers are very, very much saddened," Wasden said. "They want to 
reach out to the community and don't know the best way. It's a very 
difficult time for the entire organization. We want to help make this right."

At the Sepulveda home in the Highway Village area, neighbors and reporters 
streamed across the front lawn. Ashen-faced family members sat around an 
altar of roses and candles on a porch table.

A day before, seven SWAT team officers and drug agents raided the home to 
arrest Moises Sepulveda in connection with methamphetamine trafficking.

Brother offers details

Alberto's 14-year-old brother, Moises Sepulveda Jr., briefly described the 
incident to reporters:

Shortly after 6 a.m. Wednesday, authorities crashed through the front door 
and threw a smoke bomb across the living room floor. A black scorch mark 
was still visible on the wooden floor Thursday.

Moises Jr. said Alberto was asleep in the bedroom they shared when agents 
stormed the house.

Moises Jr. said he jumped down from the top bunk bed and ran into the 
narrow hallway, where he met his father as police were coming into the house.

"My dad was cuffed and I was cuffed and one of them was stepping on my 
neck, pointing a gun down at me and told me not to move ... They handcuffed 
us all," Moises Jr. said. "They shot (Alberto) when he was waking up; he 
was getting out of bed."

Late Wednesday night, Moises Jr. tore out a 4-foot patch of blood-stained 
carpet near the bottom bunk.

"This is where he died," Moises Jr. said as he stepped over the gaping hole 
in the carpet.

"They didn't want his mom to see it," said cousin Ramon Sepulveda Jr.

On top of the stereo nearby is a framed picture of flying eagles, with 
Spanish meanings of the boys' names. Sonia Sepulveda gave them the picture 
three years ago and signed the bottom with: Con amor a mis hijos. (To my 
sons with love).

Moises Jr. read the picture: "Alberto is a man without problems; he is 
quick to be gentle," he said, turning away from the photo, sobbing. "My 
brother was all those things."

Eight-year-old Xitlalic, Alberto's sister, clutched a pink construction 
paper card from her classmates at Chrysler Elementary. Alberto completed 
sixth grade at Chrysler last year.

"He used to walk me to and from school every day," she said softly. "He 
would always watch out for me. He was my best brother."

The officer

The shooting also devastated the family of David Hawn. To current and 
former Modesto SWAT team members, he's a respected tactician, a calming 
presence in dangerous situations.

"We're not talking about a guy that doesn't know what he's doing or makes 
mistakes very often," said Lt. Dave Gianotti, who commanded the SWAT team 
for 15 years before stepping down earlier this year. "Hawn is one of the 
most squared-away tactical officers this department has ever seen."

Hawn, whose wife, Shirley, is a hostage negotiator for police, has two 

The 49-year-old officer has served on the SWAT team nearly 19 of his 21 
years on the force. He and teammates have won three state SWAT competitions.

"In this job, there's a natural tendency for the voice to go up a couple 
octaves," said Sgt. Craig Mitchell, a former SWAT team member of Hawn's. 
"And pretty soon you're screaming into the radio because it gets so tense 
sometimes. But he's never like that. He stays calm and cool. That's always 
been his persona."

Detective Jon Buehler, on the SWAT team since 1988, spoke with Hawn after 
the shooting.

"I think he's doing better than most people because he's got some age and 
wisdom behind him," Buehler said. "But nothing can prepare somebody for 
something like this. For that reason, I'm sure he's having a rough time."

Dr. Philip S. Trompetter, a police psychologist who counsels officers 
involved in critical incidents, met with Hawn and other SWAT team members 
after the shooting. The purpose was for the officers to talk about their 
feelings in a nonthreatening setting.

Trompetter said officers who use deadly force often spend long hours 
second-guessing their actions, replaying the incident over in their minds.

"SWAT teams are very well trained in taking into custody the bad people and 
protecting the victims," Trompetter said. "They're frequently in a warrior 
sort of mode, and they look very menacing. Underneath those black uniforms 
are fathers of children.

"They see themselves as protectors. They don't see themselves as killers. 
When a SWAT team has an adverse outcome and anyone gets killed, and 
certainly when an innocent child is killed, you're going to see a lot of 
very moist-eyed tough guys."

The father

Moises Sepulveda is expected to be arraigned this morning on drug 
trafficking charges at the U.S. Eastern District Court in Fresno. He 
remained at the Stanislaus County jail late Thursday night, without bail.

Friends described Sepulveda as a hard-working man with few vices.

Antonio Gomez and his wife, Araceli Paz, co-owners of Neon Auto Sales, met 
Sepulveda about six months ago when he bought their used Suburban. He 
rented a building behind their business and opened Sepulveda's Auto Repair 
three months ago.

Business was good, Gomez said. Some of Sepulveda's loyal customers from his 
previous employer, Los Amigos Tire Co., brought their business to him.

"As soon as they knew it was Moises, they came here," Gomez said. "He was a 
hard-working guy ... and the family, they were honest people."

The children helped out at their father's shop during the summer, he said. 
They cleaned the property and watered lawns. Sepulveda's sons also helped 
Gomez put parts on vehicles.

Gomez remembered seeing Alberto helping his father work on cars.

"I don't know what the dad did outside of work, or what (police) say he 
did, but that kid was innocent," Gomez said.

Community The community was divided in its views of Wednesday's shooting, 
but everyone wanted answers.

"My concern for this thing is just full, clear disclosure on what 
happened," said Martin Ayala, a 60-year-old Modesto resident. "If it was a 
true accident, we can understand that. But if it's called an accident to 
cover something else up, then that I have a lot of problems with."

Kal Kirkle, a 45-year-old Modesto resident, questioned the timing of the raid.

"Why did they schedule it at a time when there would be children getting 
ready for school?" Kirkle said. "Why not pre-dawn or after school had 
started? Any time you do a drug raid and you know deadly force could be 
used, why wouldn't you minimize the risk to innocent bystanders? If they'd 
done that, that little boy would be alive today.

"My sympathy goes to the police officer. He's got to be hurting the worst 
for all this. Ultimately, it's the responsibility of the father who was 
knowingly breaking the law. He put his own children at risk by his lifestyle."

Wade Whitson, a 37-year-old roofer from Stevinson, believes the shooting is 
just the latest example of overzealous police.

"It was no accident," he said. "They went in there to get their man at any 
cost. It's a mini- Waco. This is the reason people should be allowed to 
have guns, to be able to protect their homes."

Steve Hernandez, a 35-year-old agriculture laborer from Westley, tried to 
talk about the shooting with his 9-year-old daughter.

"She kept asking me how it happened. She asked me why an 11-year-old would 
get killed, especially by a cop. I said, 'I don't know.' "
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