Details emerge in Petaluma raid
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 8:46 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 8:46 a.m.
Three Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were shot and wounded early this morning when gunfire erupted during a raid on a home in east Petaluma, federal officials say.
A suspect is in custody, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said in a statement.
The 4 a.m. raid, part of a massive law enforcement sweep this morning at 12 locations around the Bay Area, stemmed from an investigation into a 2010 triple homicide in South San Francisco, said Mike Brosnan, operations captain for South San Francisco Police.
The raids targeted gang members suspected of shooting three rivals on a South San Francisco street on Dec. 22, 2010, as well as those who helped obstruct the police investigation, a source told the San Jose Mercury News.
While the 16-month investigation began in response to the killings, it grew to include gangs, guns and drugs, the source told the Mercury News.
“The homicide was one of many criminal acts that were encompassed by this 16-month investigation,” Brosnan said.
Kice said federal agents were in Petaluma to serve “high-risk” warrants on the home, located at 1325 McNeil Ave., across South McDowell Boulevard from the Washington Square Shopping Center.
Perhaps 40 or 50 law enforcement agents in military garb were lined up down McNeil Avenue to enter the home, said roommates Joey Sullivan and Kolubah Dukuly, who live two doors away from the suspect's house.
Katie Behrs, who also lives in the neighborhood, said she and her husband were awakened by loud bangs, presumably from the flash-bang devices law enforcement agents often use to distract and surprise a suspect as they enter a building.
Agents dragged their wounded colleagues to cover behind a massive armored, tank-like truck that was parked at an angle in the street, said Chris Flanary, a neighbor who witnessed the raid from the nearby sidewalk.
“A lady paramedic was saying, ‘Focus, focus, keep your eyes on me,'” Flanary said.
Shortly after, other agents brought the suspect out and kept him handcuffed on the lawn of his house, screaming at him to stay where he was, Flanary said.
The suspect was brought out shirtless and without shoes, wearing basketball shorts, Behrs said.
“He was screaming, ‘I didn't do anything,'” she said.
About 20 minutes later, there was a second volley of shots, Behrs said.
After the gunfire subsided, agents continued to bear down on the house.
“They were screaming, ‘Come out with your hands up,'” in English and Spanish, Behrs said. “It was intense.”
Medical personnel were sent to the home at 4:10 a.m., emergency dispatchers said.
A REACH helicopter landed on McDowell Boulevard to transport the most severely wounded agent to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Two ICE agents were transported by ground ambulance, to Memorial and Petaluma Valley Hospital, emergency dispatchers said.
None of the agents' injuries was life-threatening, Kice said, though she declined to elaborate.
“I hear they're OK,” one special agent at the scene told reporters.
It was unclear who lived in the blue-gray house east of Highway 101, where an SUV and a motor boat were parked in the driveway.
Some neighbors described a man in his late 20s or early 30s, as well as a woman and two young children, while others said they knew only that at least one adult male lived in the home.
Sullivan and Dukuly said cars came and went from the house frequently, sometimes double-parking in the street.
“To be honest, I thought they were selling weed out of the house, but obviously something more crazy was going on,” Sullivan said.
It was unclear who was arrested or what became of the other residents. Kice said no information would be released until a news conference later this afternoon.
In the aftermath of the shooting, large plate glass windows across the front of the house were in pieces and a chunk of the garage door had been cut out.
A huge, black armored vehicle with Homeland Security markings and a large, shiny black SUV remained in the street out front, surrounded by dozens of law enforcement personnel and vehicles. The street was blocked off.
A tan, beefy dog lay dead in the backyard, where two heavily armed federal agents — one with a face mask pulled over his lower face — stood guard.
Through a breezeway into the back of the neighboring Best Western/Petaluma Inn, ICE and Homeland Security Investigations agents were using a hotel room to debrief witnesses, manager Bob Everhart said.
Brosnan, with South San Francisco Police, said the Petaluma raid stemmed from investigation into the 2010 killings of Gonzalo Avalos, 19, Omar Cortez, 18 and Hector Flores, 20, who were killed while walking down a South San Francisco street.
Authorities have said the slayings were motivated by a gang rivalry, but it soon involved the need to bring in federal agencies as the case expanded, Brosnan said.
He would not say anything else about suspected criminal conduct, citing a 3 p.m. news conference to be held by federal agents and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The raid — a furious incursion that involved scores of personnel, the armored tank and air support — awakened most in the neighborhood, beginning with the initial explosion, which one hotel guest said created several large flashes of light.
Dukuly and Sullivan, who live on the corner of McNeil and South McDowell, were told they had to get out, but most residents were told to remain in their homes.
Hotel manager Everhart said anyone in the hotel not awakened by the explosion and gunfire would have been awakened by the REACH helicopter that landed just outside.
Hotel guest John Stickle, 64, of Watsonville, said he saw a guest start to leave his room just as three law enforcement agents, shoulder-to-shoulder with firearms at the ready strode down the darkened parking lot and angrily ordered him to get back inside.
“It was really bedlam,” said Stickle, who was in town house hunting.
The neighborhood, Everhart said, “was pretty much on lockdown.”
McNeil Avenue resident Caroline Uland, who lives a block west of the crime scene, said hearing helicopters overhead in the wake of the explosion and gunfire suggested a suspect might be on the loose.
“It was kind of frightening,” she said. “But I figured if it was dangerous, they would tell us.”
The home is on the same block as a 2010 homicide, when Kenneth Mullennix is alleged to have fatally shot his wife. Mullennix's trial is ongoing in Sonoma County Superior Court.
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