February 22, 2013
Five Connecticut towns will pay $3.5 million in a bizarre raid by heavily armed SWAT team members after a report of drugs in the house of a Norwalk man. The team hit the home with flash grenades while snipers and officers surrounded the property. The owner, Ronald Terebesi, was dragged from the home and another man, Gonzalo Guizan (right), shot and killed. Neither was armed and a small amount of recreational drugs were found. The towns however still fought the case for years until a court issued a key ruling against them. They still deny any negligence or fault and proceeded to give the officer leading the raid an award for his role in the disastrous raid. (Swat members shown here were not involved in this raid)
This case however captures the problem of police departments that seem eager to use armored cars and SWAT teams funded after 9-11. Former Easton Police Chief John “Jack” Solomon insists that the raid was carried out according to a valid warrant. That warrant was based on a call from an exotic dancer who admitted that she had a dispute with Terebesi. Police (who have had complaints about Terebesi entertaining exotic dancers in the past) responded with a virtual invasion. The SWAT team covered in body armor drove into the neighborhood in SUVs and an large armored transport with SWAT team members standing on the running boards ready to assault the house. They also took a video of the assault as snipers deployed and the armored car charged the house.
Monroe Officer Michael Sweeney led the team into the house behind a large shield with Trumbull Officer Brian Weir behind him pointing a M4 assault rifle. The grenades exploded and and doors came off their hinges. Sweeney then screamed “I’m hit” and police let loose a torrent of bullets. Guizan was hit six times and died. Terresi was handcuffed and dragged out of the house. The plaintiffs say that the evidence showed both men were clearly cowering in a corner when the shooting occurred.
Sweeney was not shot and at most was hit by the debris from the flashbang grenades thrown by his own team. Weir later said that when he heard Sweeney say that he was hit, he fired at the men. Sweeney then says that he saw Terebesi and Guizan in the corner but that they charged him and Guizan tried to grab his gun. Sweeney said that he fired to keep control of his weapon. Weir however said that he saw no such struggle and the attorneys for the two men said that the evidence clearly shows that they were cowering in the corner. An autopsy showed that Sweeney was in a superior position consistent with his account on the shooting.
One would think that these towns would be outraged by the overkill shown in the assault and then the negligent actions taken in the house. If so, one would be wrong. The towns spent more money fighting the case despite clear evidence found by the courts to support a trial. Now, Easton First Selectman Thomas Herrmann insists that the settlement does not reflect any negligence by his officers or those of the other towns: “While the defendants, police departments and officers from Darien, Easton, Trumbull, Monroe and Wilton maintain they were not responsible for the unfortunate death of Mr. Guizan, the insurers for the defendants, who will bear the full cost of the settlement, believed that it was best to resolve the matter rather than incur further attorneys’ fees, which were anticipated to be significant. The defendants concurred, further believing it was important to facilitate the Guizan family being relieved of the combined burden of litigation.”
That seems a rather belated concern for the Guizan family since you first launched a virtual military assault on a drug allegation, then killed the unarmed Guizan, and then fought their claim for damages until you had little practical alternative but to settle.
Team members found only two crack pipes and a tin containing a small amount of cocaine, but no guns.
Sweeney was then honored for his role in the raid by the police department.
This article was posted: Friday, February 22, 2013 at 11:27 am