SWAT burns innocent man to death
As the house ignited and flames ripped it apart, the SWAT stayed outside, rifles drawn, waiting for Rogelio Serrato to surrender. When he finally came out of his Monterey County home, it was in a body bag.
Now attorneys have filed a civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit against the SWAT team and the officers involved in the unsuccessful raid. The lawyers at Haddard & Sherwin are seeking monetary damages on behalf of Serrato’s two toddler sons that he will never see grow up.
Serrato’s lawyers say that he was unarmed when the SWAT swarmed his house on the morning of January 5. Serrato, 31, was a person of interest in a shooting that took place a few days earlier at a nearby bar called the Mucky Duck. His attorneys, however, say that he was not there on the night of the incident.
Regardless, SWAT drove a military combat-style vehicle up to his Greenfield door and resorted to a stun grenade when Serrato didn’t respond to their demands to surrender. The “scare tactic” went wrong and two sofas in his house started on fire. Serrato was killed in the blaze.
"The military style raid was highly excessive. They needlessly killed this young father," Haddad tells network KSBW. “This was only a search warrant. They didn't have an arrest warrant. They were going to search the house. It didn't justify the kind of para-military [tactics] that they did,” he adds to The Californian.
The coroner placed the cause of death as smoke inhalation, but notes, however, that methamphetamine intoxication also contributed to his death. In the lawsuit, Serrato’s lawyers say that SWAT officials may have been aware that the victim was under the influence, as well as “emotionally disturbed and unable to care for himself."
In the lawsuit, attorneys are attacking several SWAT officials that they say planned the raid and those in particular that agreed to employ the “scare tactic.” Det. Al Martinez is named in the lawsuit as the specific man who actually launched the weapon.
Haddad adds that the lawsuit will be served to the defendants soon, after which they will have a set number of days to respond to the charges.
"This is just the beginning of the case, but really this lawsuit will hold the officers accountable for Mr. Serrato's death, finally, and hopefully prevent this kind of tragedy from happening in the future,” says Haddad.
"You've got two young boys who've lost their father," he adds. "Nothing can ever replace their father."