CHICAGO (CBS) — A federal lawsuit was filed Thursday on behalf of George Soto and his family, after a 911 prank led to a violent raid on their home in Bellwood.
“It was a prank call that turned into a bad swatting incident, which turned into an unconstitutional search and seizure,” said attorney Andrew M. Stroth.READ MORE: 'Success Absolutely Means Survival At This Point': Local Shops Inch Toward Recovery On Small Business Saturday
CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini reported Wednesday night on the Sotos’ ordeal – which raises the question, are police doing their due diligence when they get tips like this?
The lawsuit said at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 17, George and Margarita Soto were sleeping in their Bellwood home with their daughter, Ariana Soto, and their grandchildren – ages 10, 13, and 15.
“Unknown to them, several heavily armed members of a West Suburban Taskforce comprised of police officers from Bellwood, Maywood, Hillside, Westchester, and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department had surrounded their home and were lurking in the shadows,” the lawsuit said.
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.”
The lawsuit said the 15-year-old was handcuffed, taken barefoot from the home, driven away, and not returned for more than 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the lawsuit said, George Soto was “violently thrown to the ground by police officers and an officer pressed his knee into Mr. Soto’s back for several minutes.”READ MORE: Man Killed In Shooting Near Gurnee Mills Mall
“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.
The lawsuit said for 20 minutes, the officers refused to tell the Sotos what was going on. The Sotos later learned the officers were looking for someone they didn’t know named Daniel Garcia, and it had all been the result of a prank call, the lawsuit said.
“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.
When officers burst in, they immediately could see his wife was clearly alive.MORE NEWS: 14-Year-Old Boy Fatally Struck By Car In Lawndale; 12-Year-Old Girl In Critical Condition
The lawsuit named the Village of Bellwood and 10 unidentified police officers as defendants. It accused the defendants of unlawful search, unlawful seizure, supervisory liability, intentional infliction of emotional distress, battery, and assault, and sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.