in California drug raid
TY PHILLIPS, Modesto Bee of California
MODESTO, Calif. (September 14, 2000) - An 11-year-old Modesto boy was fatally shot early Wednesday morning when police SWAT team officers on a federal narcotics sweep raided his parents' home. Police said the shooting was an accident.
Alberto Sepulveda, a seventh-grader at Prescott Senior Elementary School, was pronounced dead in his home in the north Modesto neighborhood commonly known as Highway Village. He died from one shotgun round to the back, Police Chief Roy Wasden said.
Wasden would not give any other details of the shooting or raid, not even where in the small house the shooting took place. He said details will not be available until investigations have been completed.
"Our entire department is in shock," Wasden said. "And our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the family of the child, and the officers who were involved in this tragic incident."
The shot came from officer David Hawn, whose weapon accidentally discharged during the raid, Wasden said. Hawn, a 21-year department veteran, has served on the SWAT team for 18 1/2 years. Following department policy, Hawn was placed on paid leave.
Hawn and six other officers had been ordered to enter the house and secure it so federal agents could serve drug warrants.
The boy's father, Moises Sepulveda, was arrested and booked on charges of methamphetamine trafficking. The boy's mother and two siblings, ages 8 and 14, also were home during the raid.
Officers knocked on the door at 6:16 a.m. Five minutes later, a call went out for an ambulance and Fire Department personnel.
Police swarmed in and out of the house all day, and Stanislaus County coroner's deputies did not remove the boy's body until after 2 p.m.
As is routine with officer-involved shootings, separate investigations are being conducted by the district attorney's office, the Police Department's Crimes Against Persons Unit and Professional Standards Unit, and the city attorney's office.
"Our preliminary investigation indicates that the shooting was accidental," Wasden said at his first major press conference since becoming chief Aug. 7.
The department could not immediately provide a list of police shootings, but no one could remember a case in which an officer had killed a child.
As some officers worked inside the house, others stood grim-faced outside, talking in small groups. Neighbors stood in front of their homes, wondering what had happened on their street.
A potted plant had been tipped off the house's porch and onto the lawn. A police shield rested on the porch.
Neighbors leaned around yellow police tape, trying to sneak a look inside the home.
"It's a war zone all around this village," said Charley Ney, 44, who lives in the neighborhood. "It gets crazy sometimes."
Ney leaned on a fence several doors from the crime scene, talking with neighbors Bill Blair, 41, and Lloyd Little, 55. The men knew someone had been shot in a drug raid, but they had no idea it was a boy.
Blair said drugs are nothing new to Highway Village. He has lived in the area all his life. The men knew late-night traffic at the house is common, but it was not something they watched closely.
"When you live out here, there's always something going on," Blair said. "When you drive around, you don't look too much at people like that. You don't watch them because they're watching you."
Wednesday night, neighbors stood at the edge of driveways and lawns, swapping stories of concern, shock and grief.
"I didn't ever think anything like this could happen at that house, to that family," former next-door neighbor Nadia Chuca, 23, said. "He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time; it's just sad that this happened to an 11-year-old. ... I saw him grow up."
The Sepulveda family has lived at the home for about five years. Fourteen-year-old Melissa Gold lived across the street until recently.
She said Alberto taught bicycle tricks to her 9-year-old brother, Brian.
"My little brother, he's been sad all day. He tried to ask me why the cop shot him. I didn't know how to say it in sign language," she said. "My brother's deaf."
Sam Climber walked his 9-year-old son, Sam Jr., in front of the Sepulveda house to try to make sense of Wednesday's shooting.
His son, he said, played daily with Alberto.
"We would play hide-and-go-seek, ride our bikes and have water balloon fights," the young Climber said. "I sort of could not believe it; I didn't think kids could get shot."
Counseling services were provided Thursday for students at Chrysler and Prescott schools, said Judy French, a secretary in the Stanislaus Union School District. Alberto attended Chrysler last year.
Wednesday's raid was part of a drug trafficking investigation that began in January 1999, said Robert Dey, a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
He said authorities had identified a Stanislaus County drug ring that was making and selling large quantities of methamphetamine. Wednesday's action involved 14 simultaneous raids at houses around the county.
Officers arrested 14 people, Dey said, and were seeking four others.
SWAT teams called upon for Wednesday's operation were from the Sacramento and San Francisco offices of the FBI, the DEA, the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department and the Lodi Police Department.
"With the violent nature of methamphetamine traffickers, we try to take all the precautions to avoid anyone getting hurt. This is a tragic situation for all parties involved," Dey said.