The Stanislaus County SWAT team swarmed an east Patterson home Tuesday morning, April 5, serving two warrants in relation to a March 23 shooting and arresting a local man.
Johnny Tovar, 22, was arrested at his house at Washburn Street and Weber Avenue on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon shortly before 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to Detective David Hickman of Patterson Police Services and witnesses.
The Special Weapons and Tactics team surrounded the house for more than an hour, smashing a window and pointing a gun inside at one point and using an explosive sound device, police and witnesses said. Police told several residents to stay indoors while the operation was under way, giving some neighbors an early-morning scare.
“I (told people), ‘There are a whole bunch of G.I. Joes behind our house,’” said Weber Avenue resident Janie Quiroba, who lives directly around the corner from the raided home.
Quiroba recounted how SWAT officers crawled through her backyard and knocked over a few fence posts to reach her neighbor’s yard. One officer climbed a tree near her fence, she said.
Several people in the area also said they heard a loud explosion, which Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Capt. Tim Beck attributed to a “flash-bang,” a nonlethal grenade that is used to confuse a person inside a building before an arrest.
In addition to arresting Tovar, team members escorted a woman and two girls safely out of the home, said Beck, who heads up the operations division of the sheriff’s department, including SWAT.
The arrest is related to a March 23 shooting in which three pedestrians flagged down a car on the 100 block of East Las Palmas Avenue near a Valero service station and then shot at the people inside the car, according to police. Both the passenger and the driver escaped unscathed. The suspects in that case were thought to be possible gang members, according to police reports.
Detectives were able to identify both the shooter and a person accompanying him following an investigation, said Sgt. John Walker of Patterson Police Services. He did not know what role Tovar might have played, and detectives could not be reached for comment because they were investigating another shooting on Wednesday.
A neighbor across the street from the Tovar home, who did not wish to give his name, said he respected local police but thought the SWAT team’s actions Tuesday were excessive.
In addition to breaking a window in a 10-year-old girl’s room, the unit broke a glass coffee table and a clear glass vase inside the house, he said.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “I feel really bad for the mother, who is a hardworking woman. People who are suspected of murder are not even treated like this.”
The Tovar family could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Beck defended the SWAT team’s actions, saying the group’s job was to make sure that search warrants were executed and that everyone left the house safely, including the people the team was seeking, he said.
“It’s easier to pay for a broken window than to deal with a fallen deputy,” Beck said.
The county’s risk management staff determines whether to cover the costs of damage caused by officers, such as broken windows, he said.
Beck said he did not know how often the SWAT group is used in Patterson, but he said it is sent into action sporadically throughout the county, sometimes not for several weeks and sometimes several times in a month, he said. The sheriff’s department goes through a “threat matrix” to determine whether to call in the team, asking questions such as whether a warrant is being issued for gang violence and whether the suspect is known to use guns or has associates who have been arrested for gun possession, Beck said.
Quiroba welcomed the police presence this week. She said she had heard gunshots fired near the corner house a few weeks ago, and someone had stolen marijuana plants about a year ago from the same address.
A nice woman lives in the house, Quiroba said, but she added that she does not know the others who stay there.
After the marijuana theft, a young woman from the house accused the Quirobas of stealing the plants, threatening to shoot someone with a firearm if it happened again, said Rosemarie Samarripa, Quiroba’s niece. Several families in the area are well connected and warn each other when police are around, she said.
“This is a very drug-infested neighborhood,” she added.
Though Quiroba was happy to see the police intervention this week, she also indicated that Tuesday’s morning raid was a frightening experience she will not soon forget.
“Oh my God, I was, like, shaking,” she said.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.