'Communication failure was mine': Galveston's police chief speaks up for 1st time since botched raid

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Saturday, February 11, 2023
Galveston's police chief speaks up for 1st time since botched raid
Galveston Police Chief Doug Balli speaks up after returning from a 10-day administrative leave due to the city investigating a botched raid.

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Galveston Police Chief Doug Balli speaks up after returning from a 10-day administrative leave due to the city investigating a botched raid.

Balli returned to work on Feb. 7 and said it "feels great to be back" after missing the department and missing citizens of Galveston.

"Stressful getting through that. Frustrations of not interacting with officers, the public," Balli said on Saturday. "The city launched an investigation through the human resources department. I can't speak on the details of the investigation, but I'm very happy to be cleared and return to work. move forward from this and do the very best job I can."

The raid happened at Erika Rios' home at about 2 a.m. on Jan. 20, but the man who police were looking for didn't live there.

Police were searching for a man they said was wanted in a murder. It turns out the suspect was a family friend but did not live in the home, and now we know the person in question was misidentified and had not committed the crime.

Hours after the raid, the family learned that police were looking for Cameron Vargas, a family friend identified as a possible murder suspect. Vargas, a teenager living around the corner from Rios, later turned himself in.

Vargas did not live in the Rios house, nor was he there at the time of the raid. According to the Galveston Daily News, charges were later dropped against Vargas because a witness falsely identified him.

Last week, we learned Galveston police had a total of three warrants.

One to search for Vargas and another warrant to search the home for drugs, weapons, and surveillance equipment.

They ended up seizing two handguns, one of which was reported stolen out of Houston, some drug paraphernalia, a small amount of marijuana - as well as vape catridges from the home.

The family at the center of the SWAT raid gone bad retained a lawyer, and their attorneys demanded a public apology from the city of Galveston and asked the city to pay to fix the damages done to the home during the raid.

The family told ABC13 in a previous report that there were thousands of dollars in damage to the home. The city referred the claim to its insurance company.

They said they were woken up by a SWAT team that smashed through their windows and fired pellets during a raid that the city of Galveston is now investigating.

The ordeal was captured on the family's security camera. It shows Rios, her teenage son, her daughter, and a friend being forced out of their house with their hands up. The teens, seen in the video, were clearly upset and had no idea what was happening.

Galveston Mayor Craig Brown told ABC13 that he only learned about the raid four days later after reading the newspaper.

"The communication failure was mine. I fully understand that and want to move past that. I will ensure that won't happen again. I trusted the process that the city conducted as far as investigation and am very happy to (have returned) to work," Balli said.

READ MORE: Galveston mayor says city police didn't tell officials about botched raid that ruined family's home

The City of Galveston sent Eyewitness News the following statement after reaching out multiple times with questions regarding the raid:

"We have been apprised of Mr. Buzbee's demand to the City. Chief Balli and the Galveston Police Department insist the incident involving the deployment and actions of the SWAT team at the house in the 5300 block of Avenue O were done in compliance with applicable laws, department policies, and procedures and with a valid warrant. The Acting Police Chief, in coordination with City Management, has requested the Galveston County Sheriff's Department conduct an independent investigation of the matter to determine whether there was any deviation from the law, policies, procedures, or the warrant(s) by GPD. Until that investigation has been completed and a report has been reviewed by the City, any comment would be premature. The City has initiated a claim with its insurance carrier, and the City's Risk Manager will be contacting the attorney representing the property owner to assist them in assessing their claim."

WATCH: Family, subject of erroneous warrant demand apology from city of Galveston after botched raid

The family at the center of a SWAT raid gone bad in Galveston has retained a lawyer and demanded damages be paid by the city.