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

Thursday, February 2, 2023
Family at center of botched Galveston police raid wants justice
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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.

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The family at the center of a SWAT raid gone bad in Galveston has retained a lawyer, and on Wednesday, 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.

"We want the windows replaced, their doors fixed. We want their fence fixed, the wiring fixed, and their water fixed. All of the things you destroyed unnecessarily fixed, and we want you to pay their medical bills that they need for glass in their feet and their knees," the Rios' family attorney, Tony Buzbee, said.

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

"So they had the suspect wrong, the house wrong, the suspect wasn't at the house, and the lead investigator knew all of that," Buzbee said.

The family told ABC13 this was a nightmare for them. 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.

Police were searching for a man they said was wanted in a murder. It turns out the man 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.

The ordeal was captured on the family's security camera. It shows Erika 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.

"My kids and I were home sleeping, and at about 2 a.m., we were awakened by wooden pellets in our doors and sounds of the Galveston Police Department saying to come out with our hands up. He said it twice and started firing these into our windows and doors," Rios said.

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

Galveston's police chief Doug Balli is now on administrative leave while the city looks into the botched raid.

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.

However, there are multiple major issues with the entire situation.

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.

Vargas' mother, Terry Borrell, spoke out on Wednesday, saying she does not know why he was considered a suspect in the first place.

"(Vargas ) does not run the streets. He likes to be at home. He certainly does not participate in criminal activity or hang out with people who do. My son is also due a public apology," Borrell said.

The family told ABC13 there are thousands of dollars in damage to the home. The city referred the claim to its insurance company.

On Wednesday, Eyewitness News reached out to the City of Galveston multiple times with questions regarding the raid. Wednesday evening, they sent the following statement:

"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."