Pubdate: Wed, 11 Nov 2015
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Lauren Villagran
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


Stun Grenades Used in 2013 Drug Bust

A lawsuit filed in federal court this week alleges FBI agents used 
excessive force in a southern New Mexico drug raid two years ago when 
they tossed stun grenades into a trailer where three children slept.

The 9- and 10-year-old sons and 12-year-old daughter of Abel Romero 
Sr. - the target of a predawn sweep that would net 22 suspected 
dealers of drugs and guns in Anthony, N.M. - were sleeping with their 
father in the living room of a single-wide trailer when federal 
agents allegedly blew open the front door with a stun grenade that 
sent shrapnel and broken glass flying.

Shrapnel struck the 10-yearold boy in the head and shoulder; the 
12-year-old girl was made to walk out of the house barefoot and cut 
her feet on broken glass; all three children were emotionally 
traumatized, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in 
Las Cruces.

Albuquerque-based FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said the FBI does not 
comment on pending litigation.

The May 8, 2013, raid by FBI SWAT agents on several Anthony homes 
targeted suspected dealers of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and 
marijuana in southern Dona Ana County and was the result of a 
months-long investigation. Twenty-nine people would be charged in 13 
criminal complaints. More than two dozen defendants pleaded guilty, 
according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico.

Through wiretaps, the lawsuit alleges FBI agents had reason to know 
that children would likely be asleep in Romero's trailer. The 
29-year-old former convict had recently regained custody of his kids.

Also living in the trailer were Romero's 47-year-old mother, Teresa; 
his 60-yearold stepfather, Rosalio Ramirez, who bought and sold scrap 
metal; and his younger sister, Perla Ramirez, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that FBI agents knew that Romero, although he had 
an extensive arrest record, had no record of physically resisting 
police officers. Agents had no reason to believe the other residents 
would resist the FBI as it executed a search warrant, the lawsuit alleges.

The 2013 federal criminal complaint against Romero describes prior 
arrests for at least nine violations including resisting or evading a 
police officer, aggravated battery and possession of marijuana with 
intent to distribute.

The lawsuit claims that, in securing a search warrant, FBI agents 
omitted "that minor children were living in the trailer and were 
likely to be home when the warrant was executed" and also omitted 
that agents "intended to use explosive devices, namely the type of 
grenades used by the United States military for urban warfare 
operations" where the defendants "knew or should have known that 
minor children were highly likely to be sleeping."

"The father here - it wasn't like he was Pablo Escobar or something," 
said Richard Rosenstock, a Santa Fe-based attorney for the three 
children, sister and grandmother, referring to the notorious 
Colombian druglord. "We're not challenging the use of the SWAT team. 
It's the use of explosive devices in a situation where they knew 
there were minor children there."

Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico, said 
the case is the latest example of a "hypermilitarized approach to law 

"Best practice is that they have a deployment plan that considers all 
contingencies, like who will be on premises during the raid and the 
likelihood of encountering violent resistance," he said. "It's what 
we expect from the Albuquerque Police Department as it reforms its 
SWAT operations, so you would at least expect as much from federal 
law enforcement."

Simonson said SWAT raids are increasingly being used to execute 
street-level drug warrants rather than the more extreme situations 
for which they were originally intended, such as when hostages or 
live shooters are involved.

As a result, he said, "you get situations like this, where a SWAT 
team descends on a home and puts innocent victims in harm's way 
because of their aggressive tactics."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Earlier this year, U.S. Judge Robert Brack sentenced Abel Romero Sr. 
to 11 years in prison for his conviction on charges related to 
selling cocaine and guns.
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