LAS CRUCES – When the SWAT team gets called out, worlds go into chaos.
Neighbors are evacuated, told to stay away for hours, and streets are shut down, with drivers forced into alternate routes. But more than that, there’s often a lot of property damage, that some landlords call unnecessary.
“They trashed (the home), completely trashed it,” said Frank Avalos, lardlord of an adobe home in the 700 block of Texas Avenue.
From Jan. 1 to Nov. 28 of 2017, the Las Cruces Police SWAT team has been called out 23 times. And, most of the time they are successful. Of those 23 calls, 21 have led to the apprehension of at least one individual, said Dan Trujillo, spokesperson for the Las Cruces Police Department.
But their raids often result in property damage along with apprehensions
Avalos’ home was the center of a SWAT investigation on Nov. 17, as the team, under the direction of the United States Marshal Services — and with the help of the New Mexico State Police and the Las Cruces Police Department — surrounded the place, closing off surrounding streets.
Neighbors said there were about 30 to 40 law enforcement officers casing the house, including an officer designated as a sniper standing on the roof of a neighbor’s house across the street.
The incident began about 1 p.m., when law enforcement went to carry out the arrest of Jose “Josh” Herrera, 35, and Arthur “Art” Orozco, 35. Authorities were able to arrest Herrera who was wanted on a failure-to-appear warrant, as well as arrest a second person, Brianna Juarez, 24, who was wanted on eight court warrants for violating the terms of her probation.
Orozco was still at-large when authorities left.
But with the incident happening on a Friday the week before Thanksgiving, Avalos said one week after the incident he was still unable to obtain an incident report from the police or city.
A 52-year-old man was shot dead Monday in a standoff with police on Arizona Avenue that blocked several nearby streets for much of the afternoon. Wochit
Avalos said he is working with his insurance company to pay for the damage the SWAT team caused.
According to Avalos, all of the windows in the small 800-foot home had been broken from tear gas being thrown through them. He said they broke through the ceilings, walls and closet doors while they searched the premises, looking for the second target, Orozco. Avalos also said, the front and back doors were damaged, as well as the door frames.
“I had just gotten new windows and doors in the house … about maybe two, three months ago,” Avalos said. “In 35, 40 years (of owning this home) nothing like this has ever happened.”
Avalos also said everything in the house was damaged as couches were flipped and the refrigerator had been rammed into when the team was entering the house.
After the two arrests, Avalos said the authorities continued to search the house, even though the suspects and he insisted there was no one else in the house.
“To me, it looks like a lot of tax dollars and damage.” Avalos said. “Why trash (the home) like that knowing (the suspect) was not in there anymore?”
Avalos is not the only Las Cruces landlord who has suffered significant loss due to SWAT raids. Rudy Misquez also said the SWAT team “destroyed” his rental property when searching for a man who was not one of his renters.
The price on this raid: at least $65,000, Misquez said.
The incident occurred on the 700 block of N. Campo Street on June 22 when authorities were looking for a man in his mid-40s with a warrant for aggravated assault against a household member. Misquez said the man was running from police when he saw the backdoor of the rental property open and decided to hide in the home.
At the time, Misquez said his two tenants were home and exited on command. The suspect, however, locked himself inside, forcing the SWAT team to go in after him.
In the pursuit, Misquez said the team broke all the windows but one, used a tractor to break through the brick in the front of the house leaving a gaping hole, used tear gas, and shot bullets — Misquez said he was unsure if they were real or rubber — that left holes throughout the walls.
“They had a K9 unit,” Misquez said. “But instead of sending in the dog to get him, they destroyed the house.”
Misquez said it took him three months to get a police report on the incident in order to file a complaint, and when he went to check on the status on it later, it could not be located. So, he filed another with the city.
The landowner said he got frustrated and is having his insurance work with the city in getting the money to pay for the repairs, which he said he hopes will work faster as the insurance company also has to pay Misquez $500 a month every month he cannot rent his property out.
As for Misquez’s two tenants, they were forced to move out as the tear gas had seeped into the wood of the house and the furniture inside making it unsafe to live in, he said.
If has been five months since the incident, but Misquez said the headaches are far from over as the home sits in the historic Mesquite District. This means, any renovations Misquez wants or needs to do have to be approved by the preservation division which doesn’t meet until January.
He also said it would be impossible to restore the 1901 house completely to its previous standard as many of the materials needed are no longer in production.
What about the neighbors?
The Doña Ana Apartment SWAT call and the Texas Avenue call left law enforcement empty handed, or at least partially so. But in these pursuits, whether they apprehend someone or they don’t, they shake up a neighborhood.
During the Texas Avenue raid, neighbors said they were on their way home from the grocery store with a fresh gallon of milk and some eggs, among other items, when law enforcement told them they were not allowed to go back in their home.
The couple was displaced from their homes for seven hours until about 8 p.m. that night, sitting in their car a couple of streets over.
During the raid at the Doña Ana Apartments on Nov. 21, neighbor Henry Baca said he and his mother were forced out of their apartment for several hours. Baca said he was concerned for his mom who needed to sleep before work the next day.
The incident was in search of Julian Valenzuela, 30, a suspected probation and parole absconder who was believed to be in one of the apartments at 1900 N. Solano Dr. but was not located. According to court documents, Valenzuela has charges against him for aggravated assault upon a peace officer with a deadly weapon and criminal damage to property under $1,000 in April of 2016.
Another neighbor in the same building said the SWAT team came pounding on her door telling her to leave. Daisy Casires woke her sleeping 3-year-old daughter and went to her cousin’s house in the area.
She said it was several hours until she returned home and when she did, her front door was damaged and locks were broken. Casires said the law enforcement officers searched her apartment but nothing was broken or ruined. The lock was replaced quickly, but the door and the frame are still noticeably damaged.
Nonetheless, lives were shaken and damage was done.
Ali Linan can be reached at 575-541-5476, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ail__Linan on Twitter.