An innocent man was was killed in his own home by a fire caused by an aggressive SWAT team, and while never publicly admitting guilt, the sheriff’s department has finally made a monetary settlement with the family of the deceased. Two years later, justice has never been reached for the killers of Roger Serrato, who received no punishment for their role in the negligent homicide of an man unrelated to the crime they were investigating, and were in fact verbally commended by county officials.
On January 5, 2011, the Monterey County Sheriff’s SWAT team descended on the property of Rogelio “Roger” Serrato, a 31-year-old father of four. They drove an armored Lenco Bearcat into his yard and deployed a team of paramilitary enforcers around the property with the intent to extract Serrato, or kill him if necessary.
The Sheriff’s Department mistakenly believed that Serrato may have been a suspect in a non-fatal shooting at a bar that had taken place on New Year’s Eve. Serrato, however, was not involved in the shooting and was unarmed in the house, reported the Monterey Herald.
Attorney Michael Haddad, representing the family, clarified their purpose: “They said (Serrato) was not a suspect. They were just going there to execute a search warrant — not even to arrest anybody,” he said. “They had no information that he had any guns.”
In the execution of this search warrant, the SWAT team launched a military-style operation in residential Greenfield. With their troops in position, they began demanding surrender through a “thunder hailer” megaphone. It is unknown why Serrato did not comply. He may have been intoxicated, asleep, unconscious, or possibly scared. He remained in his home.
When Serrato did not emerge, the raid team broke his front window and threw an explosive incendiary device — a flashbang grenade — into his living room. The grenade lodged itself between two couches and quickly started them on fire. The flames then led to a nearby Christmas tree and escalated to the ceiling.
An officer holding a fire extinguisher immediately halted his attempts to extinguish the fire when they visibly saw someone in the home. “Suspect!” shrieked Sergeant Joseph Banuelos. SWAT officers drew their weapons and pointed them at Serrato, who was standing in his smoky living room, wearing only shorts and holding nothing in his hands, according to KSBW.
Serrato succumbed to the toxic smoke filling his house and died of asphyxiation in his bedroom.
A statement released by Haddad & Sherwin further described the situation: “Some of the defendant officers approached the house to attempt to extinguish the fire but quickly backed off when one of them saw Serrato standing inside his smoky living room, wearing shorts with nothing in his hands. Rather than helping Serrato escape the blaze, the officers retreated to their BearCat and pointed their assault rifles at him. In photos taken by a witness, the officers can be seen standing around watching the house burn.”
Defending the raid team, County Counsel Charles McKee said, “They put their lives at stake in trying to secure the property and they should be commended for trying to resolve a very tense situation.”
Sheriff Scott Miller later described his deputies actions as “heroic.”
Some have asked why the deputies didn’t enter the home after throwing in the grenade. “Once you throw it, you’re supposed to go in,” said Carlos Serrato, cousin to the victim in a KSBW interview. “I don’t know why they didn’t. I don’t know if they were scared, poorly trained, new guys, I don’t know what.”
It was later revealed that the tactic was designed to “flush out” Serrato.
“The officers’ use of an explosive, incendiary weapon inside Roger Serrato’s home, when they believed he was inside and posed no threat to anyone, was unnecessary and excessive,” said Haddad.
Unanswered remains the question of why an ambulance wasn’t called until 11:18am, 45 minutes after firefighters arrived, as reported by Monterey County Weekly.
Author and pundit, Will Grigg, described the situation in his recent article, “Killing Without Consequences: Counter-Insurgency Warfare in Greenfield California,” on his blog called Pro Libertate, saying:
“The killing of Roger Serrato was an act of murder through depraved indifference. The assailants had no justification to attack his home; they knew that their plan of attack posed the risk of a catastrophic fire; once that fire began, the assailants took no action to rescue the victim, and impeded the efforts of others to do so.”
Serrato had nothing to do with the New Year’s Eve incident and was nowhere near the bar. “The Sheriff’s Office mistakenly believed he was connected to it,” lawyers with the civil rights law firm Haddad & Sherwin said. The real shooter, Alejandro Gonzalez, turned himself in days later without the need for any further paramilitary operations.
While the county has never actually admitted any guilt in killing Roger Serrato — in fact commending their actions — their recent $2.6 million settlement with the family makes a statement in and of itself. Julia Sherwin, co-counsel to the Serrato family, said, “The large settlement represents (their) acknowledgement that the deputies in this case screwed up and they caused the fire that caused the death of Roger Serrato and his death was completely unnecessary.”
And while the family has received a sum of tax-payer dollars, no punishment has been laid upon the offending officers responsible for the homicide. Not only were they not charged with a crime, they were not even fired. “Heroic,” they were called by their boss.
If you would like to voice your concerns to the sheriff’s department, please contact them at the source below.
Monterey County Sheriff’s Department
1414 Natividad Road
Salinas, California 93906
Phone: (831) 755-3700