BELLWOOD, Ill. (CBS) — A 911 prank led to a violent police raid at the home of a suburban political candidate.
As CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini reported Wednesday night, a lawsuit for which taxpayers will soon be on the hook asks – are police doing their due diligence when they get tips like this?READ MORE: Chicagoans React To President Biden' Plan To Tackle The City's Gun Probem
“Everybody in this neighborhood knows who we are,” said George Soto. “We help each other. We know each other.”
Soto and his wife, Margarita, said the safety, comfort, and peace of the place they’ve called home for the last 15 years was shattered, when they were confronted with officers telling them: “Hands up! Hands up! Let me see your hands! We want to see your hands! Put your hands up!”
The Sotos and their grandkids were awakened last week around 1:30 a.m. What they immediately suspected were prank calls.
The caller told them to come out of their house with their hands up.
“It was a nightmare,” said Margarita Soto.
Thanks to their security cameras, the Soto’s were able to show some of what happened.
Their home was surrounded by people holding bright flashlights. What they did not see were any squad cars.
George Soto: “I’m seeing these flashlights in my face, and there were so many of them that I’m thinking, wait a minute.”
Savini: “So you don’t know who’s on the other side of that flashlight?”
George Soto: “No. No. No, absolutely. Just the bushes, that’s all we saw.”
The video shows George Soto standing on the front porch, shirtless and only in his pajama shorts. Standing by his side was his 15-year-old grandson, Isaiah.
Savini: “So you saw the flashlights and you didn’t know who it was?”
George Soto: “Correct.”
Savini: “And you pulled him back?”
George Soto: “I pulled him back inside. I grabbed my grandson. I said: ‘Look, let’s get back inside. This does not look doesn’t look right.’”
Seconds later, they say they realized the flashlights belonged to a team of heavily armed police officers. Isaiah said he came out with his hands up and saw “AR-15-type” guns being pointed right at him.
Savini: “Did you think you might get shot?”
Isaiah: “I thought I was going to get shot, or my grandfather.”
Bellwood police and officers from assisting suburbs descended on the Sotos’ home after getting a 911 call that is now under investigation as a potential case of what’s called “swatting.”
Swatting is when someone makes a bogus emergency call claiming a serious crime is being committed.
Body camera video showed Wichita police shoot and kill a man in 2017, after a prank caller claimed the man had shot his father, held his mother at gunpoint, and was threatening to burn down the house.
“That case ended in a fatality,” said Andrew M. Stroth. “This case could have ended very similarly.”
Stroth is the attorney suing the Wichita police for mishandling that swatting case. He is planning to sue the Village of Bellwood too, on behalf of the Soto family.
“Swatting is a called a new phenomenon, but it’s not new. It’s just a prank call,” Stroth said. “Officers have to take reasonable steps to research and do their due diligence about the call, the source of the call – and does it match what’s happening at this house?”
He said the 911 prank in the Sotos’ case centered around a fabricated story, that a man inside the Sotos’ address had just murdered his wife.
“The police got a call that someone had killed his wife and had a weapon; an AK-47,” Stroth said.
Stroth said Bellwood police knew the Soto family, and for good reason. George Soto is running for village trustee on a platform calling for police reform.READ MORE: Minooka Community High School District 111 And Stanley Fabian Come To Agreement On Lawsuit
When officers burst in, they immediately could see his wife was clearly alive.
Savini: “So they knew you weren’t murdered?”
Margarita Soto: “They knew I wasn’t murdered.”
Savini: “And then they took you. They saw you don’t have a gun, because you were in your underwear, basically.”
George Soto: “Right, pretty much.”
But police didn’t stop there at their foyer, and it got violent.
“And my arm was thrown back,” George Soto said, “and I just turned around and he grabbed the other arm and pushed it back and handcuffed me, and then threw me to the floor.”
Savini: “What did you feel when you were put the floor?
George Soto: “Pain.”
Savini: “So when you were cuffed and thrown to the floor, that officer put his knee right to your spine?”
George Soto: “I felt his bone part of his knee pressuring right on my back, on my spine.”
Savini: “And he fractured your spine?”
George Soto: “And he fractured my spine.”
The Sotos said their other grandchildren watched it all happen, terrified – especially the youngest, a 10-year-old.
“I could see him looking at his grandfather and he’s crying,” Margarita Soto said.
Margarita Soto says it got even scarier because her husband started having trouble breathing.
“I asked the officer: ‘Can you get me up please? I can’t breathe,’” Soto said. “(The officer said), ‘Do you have asthma, Mr. Soto?’ (I said), ‘No I don’t.’ (The officer said), ‘Well then, you can breathe.’”
George Soto said he struggled for air – face down, cuffs behind his back.
“I felt his whole weight was on my back with his knee,” he said.
“I could see my husband laying there and I’m telling them, ‘Could you just please put my husband and sit him on the sofa?’” said Margarita Soto. “They wouldn’t do that.”
Officers then searched their entire house. A camera shows them going into the basement.
Meanwhile back outside, 15-year-old Isaiah had been handcuffed and taken to a police car.
“He was treated like a criminal – with no respect, no rights,” said Jessica Soto, Isaiah’s mother and George and Margarita’s daughter.
Security camera video shows Isaiah was gone for over 20 minutes. His grandparents say he was interrogated without the right to have a parent present.
“It makes my heart hurt so bad,” said Margarita Soto, “because I’m here for them, for my grandkids.”
Savini: “You put these cameras up to protect your house from criminals. Did you ever think you’d have to use the cameras to protect yourself from the police?”
George Soto: “No, never.”
Bellwood police refused to release their body camera footage to the Sotos or CBS 2, and would only say they are trying to find out who made the 911 call.MORE NEWS: Tornado Victims Displaced Having Trouble Finding New Housing In Post Pandemic Era
The Sotos want police investigated too, for using excessive force and traumatizing their family.