By Dave Savini, Michele Youngerman, Samah Assad, and Chris Hacker
CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago family accused police officers of a botched raid just weeks after city officials promised to change the way the department handles search warrants.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Illinois: Case Count Declines For 3rd Consecutive Week; Infection Rate Lowest Since July
On March 3, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown committed to reforms after CBS 2 exposed the wrong raid on the home of an innocent social worker, Anjanette Young.
“I have made my commitment to the public, not just today, but previously, that we are going to get this right,” Lightfoot said at a news conference. “And we are going to make sure that people’s rights are respected.”
The changes included additional supervision over the search warrant process, protections for children present during raids and more.
But just 11 days after that promise, on March 14, officers with a warrant burst into a Bridgeport family’s home. What George Garcia and his wife, Kymberly Garcia, said happened during the raid mirrors many of the same accusations made by other families: guns pointed at children, families humiliated, and overall mistreatment by officers.
“They treated us like we were below them,” Kymberly Garcia said. “Like we were scum on the street basically, and I never got treated that way by anyone my entire life.”
At a time when city officials are working to convince the public that search warrant reforms are underway, CBS 2 found officers still failed to follow the department’s own rules.
On March 13, a Chicago Police Department officer went before a judge, seeking approval to search the Garcia family’s second-floor unit. In the complaint for search warrant — the official document explaining the reason why a warrant is justified — he wrote a confidential informant, or “J. Doe,” told him they’ve purchased drugs from the home on several occasions, and that “J. Doe” has been a cocaine user for years.
“J. Doe has known [redacted] for over a couple of months and during the last month has bought [cocaine] from [redacted] multiple times at said 2nd floor apartment” of the home, the officer wrote.
Department policy requires the affiant officer to complete his or her own independent investigation after receiving a tip. This could include checking utility records, conducting surveillance or doing controlled drug buys to confirm narcotics are being sold there.
But the complaint for the search warrant reveals the officer only showed a photo of George Garcia to the informant and drove them past the apartment building. No other police investigative work was documented in the complaint.
In the early afternoon of March 13, a Cook County assistant state’s attorney and a judge signed off on the warrant despite the officer’s lack of investigation. At that time, one key signature was missing: a police supervisor.
Supervisors are required to sign off on a warrant and check the officer’s work prior to a judge or an assistant state’s attorney’s review. But in this case, the search warrant shows the supervisor didn’t sign it until the next day, just a half hour before the raid.
With that search warrant in hand, officers arrived at the Garcia home at 11:21 a.m. on March 14, video from the family’s security system shows. The officers, armed with guns and a battering ram, headed to the side door.
A surveillance camera reveals police did knock and announce themselves, but only gave the family six seconds before striking the door with a battering ram.
The family said they never heard police knock because they live on the second floor. They said the six seconds police gave them wouldn’t have been enough for them to exit their apartment, walk down two flights of stairs and open the door.
“All of a sudden, I just hear my whole house shaking and a big bang,” Kymberly Garcia said. “…I just heard, boom, boom, boom. I thought maybe someone was trying to break into my house, so I was extremely terrified.”
George Garcia said the raid team gave conflicting orders before they broke into the home.
The video shows officers shouting for him to open the door as they were trying to force it open.
As officers struck the door with a battering ram, George Garcia ran to the window to tell them he would open the door. Another officer, gun drawn, told him to stay there with his hands visible.
“Stay right there! Make sure we see your hands,” the officer said.
“No problem, no problem,” George Garcia replied and reiterated that officers were breaking the door.
“The door’s already broken,” the officer said.
Once inside, the raid team headed to the second floor and burst into Garcia’s apartment. It was Sunday morning, and the family was getting ready to celebrate George Garcia’s 30th birthday.
The first thing George Garcia remembers is being scared their youngest child, 3-year-old Kruzy, might be hurt by the raid team as they barged into their apartment.
“I’m just trying to get to my kid, and I just couldn’t,” George Garcia said. “I just play it in my head over and over.”
George Garcia and Kymberly Garcia said the police pointed their guns at them and told them not to move.
Georgie, 12, said he remembers trying to stay strong for his brother.READ MORE: Obamas Return To Chicago For Groundbreaking Of Presidential Center Tuesday
“I was scared, and I didn’t want him to see me crying,” Georgie, said. “I just stayed strong for him, kept my emotions, and just protected him.”
In early 2020, the Chicago Police Department changed its search warrant policy, adding a requirement that officers plan for raids in which children might be present, after CBS 2 uncovered multiple incidents in which police pointed guns at children.
The 2020 policy, prompted by the CBS 2 investigation, added a requirement that officers “will maintain a sensitive approach and use due care to safeguard the emotional and physical well-being to minimize trauma following the execution of a search warrant,” where children are present.
These protections for children were strengthened once more when, on May 14, the department announced even more new policies that will officially go into effect later this week on May 28.
Months after the raid, Kruzy still struggles to sleep, scared of the officers, who he calls “monsters,” his parents said.
“It takes us an hour to get him to bed, and he tells us the monster stories,” Kymberly Garcia said. “When he does go to bed, he wakes up two, three times in the middle of the night.”
For Kymberly Garcia, the hardest part of the raid was her kids seeing them handcuffed.
“To sit there and have your kids looking at you, and he sees how tight the handcuffs are, and he’s trying to help me out, it’s heartbreaking,” she said.
Police records show officers didn’t find anything in the home or arrest anyone.
“They are not doing their job, that’s just it,” George Garcia said. “They are just using their own system however they want, however they see fit.”
The officers who raided the Garcia family’s apartment didn’t stop at their unit, George Garcia said. Their warrant only gave them permission to search George Garcia’s second floor apartment, but security camera video shows they went through a first-floor door, too.
There, they came upon Michael Zastro, who said he was in bed.
“It makes no sense,” Zastro said. “I was sleeping, minding my own business and I just get woke up by a bunch of cops in there raiding and they had no warrant or anything to be in there.”
Officers are heard on security camera video acknowledging that was a separate apartment from the Garcias’.
The team of officers who raided the Garcias’ apartment were among those tasked with improving police-community relations. They were members of the department’s new Community Safety Team, formed by Superintendent David Brown last summer to fight crime and build trust between the community and police.
Since the team was created in July 2020, its members have been involved in several high-profile incidents.
In August, two other officers on the Community Safety Team shot 20-year-old Latrell Allen in Englewood. Police said he fired a gun at them, but his mother and an eyewitness told CBS 2 he was trying to run away.
The shooting sparked widespread unrest as misinformation that Allen was actually a 15-year-old boy spread online. As Community Safety Team members, the officers weren’t required to wear body cameras, though officials changed those rules after the incident.
In January 2021, Franklin Paz, a lieutenant on the Community Safety Team, sued the department, claiming his supervisors retaliated against him for refusing to require his officers to participate in illegal quota-based policing.
And in March, CBS 2 reported Officer James Hunt, who was previously caught on camera bragging about having killed someone on the job, had been assigned to the team, which officials said was designed to “strengthen community trust.” Hunt was removed from the team after CBS 2’s report.
Sources tell CBS 2 the department sent the case to its disciplinary office, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which opened an investigation into the raid shortly after CBS 2 initially filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records related to the incident. A spokesperson for the office confirmed they are investigating.
The officer who obtained the warrant to search their apartment has been the subject of many such investigations during his nearly 20-year career. The Chicago Police Department and its disciplinary bodies have conducted at least 53 disciplinary investigations into him— two of which resulted in discipline, according to data gathered by the Invisible Institute.
At least 23 of those investigations were related to allegations of illegal searches, the data showed, though none of those cases resulted in discipline.
Likewise, the sergeant in charge of the raid, a 17-year department veteran, has himself been the subject of at least 33 allegations, two of which resulted in discipline, according to Invisible Institute data.
In a statement emailed to CBS 2, CPD spokesperson Don Terry said the department “immediately referred this incident to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability,” after it happened. He added that the reforms announced by Mayor Lightfoot and Supt. Brown earlier this year “were designed to prevent harm and reduce the risk to residents and officers before, during and after the effect of any search warrant.”
George Garcia said he wants the officers responsible for the raid investigated, in part because of the way he said they treated him and his wife. At one point, they said officers searched through Kymberly Garcia’s underwear drawer.
“They treat you with the most disrespect from the beginning to end and don’t have a care in the world about it,” George Garcia said.
As the officers left their apartment, Kymberly Garcia said the officers wished George a happy birthday.MORE NEWS: Jordan Hassell Charged With Making Multiple Social Media Threats Targeting Chicago Public Schools
George Garcia, who runs a construction business, asked what would be done about their damaged door. In response, Kymberly Garcia said, an officer told them “’He’s in construction, he can fix it himself.’”