SWAT Officer Kills Boy
Police Call Shooting An
By TY PHILLIPS
MODESTO BEE STAFF WRITER
September 14, 2000)
An 11-year-old Modesto boy
was fatally shot early Wednesday morning when police SWAT team officers on a
federal narcotics sweep raided his parents' home. Police said the shooting
was an accident.
Alberto Sepulveda, a
seventh-grader at Prescott Senior Elementary School, was pronounced dead in
his home at 2524 McAdoo Ave., just east of Highway 99 in the north Modesto
neighborhood commonly known as Highway Village. He died from one shotgun
round to the back, Police Chief Roy Wasden said.
Wasden would not give any
other details of the shooting or raid, not even where in the small house the
shooting took place. He said details will not be available until
investigations have been completed.
"Our entire department
is in shock," Wasden said. "And our heartfelt sympathy goes out to
the family of the child, and the officers who were involved in this tragic
The shot came from officer
David Hawn, whose weapon accidentally discharged during the raid, Wasden
said. Hawn, a 21-year department veteran, has served on the SWAT team for 18
1/2 years. Following department policy, Hawn was placed on paid leave.
Hawn and six other officers
had been ordered to enter the McAdoo Avenue house and secure it so federal
agents could serve drug warrants.
The boy's father, Moises
Sepulveda, was arrested and booked on charges of methamphetamine
trafficking. The boy's mother and two siblings, ages 8 and 14, also were
home during the raid.
Officers knocked on the
door at 6:16 a.m. Five minutes later, a call went out for an ambulance and
Fire Department personnel.
Police swarmed in and out
of the house all day, and Stanislaus County coroner's deputies did not
remove the boy's body until after 2 p.m.
As is routine with officer-
involved shootings, separate investigations are being conducted by the
district attorney's office, the Police Department's Crimes Against Persons
Unit and Professional Standards Unit, and the city attorney's office.
investigation indicates that the shooting was accidental," Wasden said
at his first major press conference since becoming chief Aug. 7.
The department could not
immediately provide a list of police shootings, but no one could remember a
case in which an officer had killed a child.
As some officers worked
inside the house, others stood grim-faced outside, talking in small groups.
Neighbors stood in front of their homes, wondering what had happened on
At 2524 McAdoo, a potted
plant had been tipped off the porch and onto the lawn. A police shield
rested on the porch.
Neighbors leaned around
yellow police tape, trying to sneak a look inside the home.
"It's a war zone all
around this village," said Charley Ney, 44, who lives near McAdoo.
"It gets crazy sometimes."
Ney leaned on a fence
several doors from the crime scene, talking with neighbors Bill Blair, 41,
and Lloyd Little, 55. The men knew someone had been shot in a drug raid, but
they had no idea it was a boy.
Blair said drugs are
nothing new to Highway Village. He has lived in the area all his life. The
men have been told late-night traffic at 2524 McAdoo is common, but it was
not something they watched closely.
"When you live out
here, there's always something going on," Blair said. "When you
drive around, you don't look too much at people like that. You don't watch
them because they're watching you."
Wednesday night, neighbors
stood at the edge of driveways and lawns, swapping stories of concern, shock
"I didn't ever think
anything like this could happen at that house, to that family," former
next-door neighbor Nadia Chuca, 23, said. "He was just at the wrong
place at the wrong time; it's just sad that this happened to an 11-year-old.
... I saw him grow up."
The Sepulveda family has
lived at the McAdoo Avenue home for about five years. Fourteen-year-old
Melissa Gold lived across the street until recently.
She said Alberto taught
bicycle tricks to her 9-year-old brother, Brian.
"My little brother,
he's been sad all day. He tried to ask me why the cop shot him. I didn't
know how to say it in sign language," she said. "My brother's
Sam Climber walked his
9-year-old son, Sam Jr., in front of the Sepulveda house to try to make
sense of Wednesday's shooting.
His son, he said, played
daily with Alberto.
"We would play
hide-and-go-seek, ride our bikes and have water balloon fights," the
young Climber said. "I sort of could not believe it; I didn't think
kids could get shot."
Counseling services will be
provided today for students at Chrysler and Prescott schools, said Judy
French, a secretary in the Stanislaus Union School District. Alberto
attended Chrysler last year.
Wednesday's raid was part
of a drug trafficking investigation that began in January 1999, said Robert
Dey, a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
He said authorities had
identified a Stanislaus County drug ring that was making and selling large
quantities of methamphetamine. Wednesday's action involved 14 simultaneous
raids at houses around the county.
Officers arrested 14
people, Dey said, and were seeking four others.
SWAT teams called upon for
Wednesday's operation were from the Sacramento and San Francisco offices of
the FBI, the DEA, the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department and the Lodi
"With the violent
nature of methamphetamine traffickers, we try to take all the precautions to
avoid anyone getting hurt. This is a tragic situation for all parties
involved," Dey said.
By MICHAEL G.
MOONEY and CRYSTAL CARREON
BEE STAFF WRITERS
(Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2000)
Alberto "Betito" Sepulveda will be buried today, six days after he
was shot to death in his Modesto home by a SWAT team member during a drug
a rally is planned outside the 5:15 p.m. Modesto City Council meeting at Tenth
Street Place, to protest the Police Department's claim that the shooting was
Carmen Sabatino and Police Chief Roy W. Wasden are expected to attend the
boy's funeral, which will begin with a 9 a.m. Mass at St. Frances of Rome
Catholic Church in Riverbank.
Mass, the procession to St. Stanislaus Catholic Cemetery will be escorted by a
Modesto Police Department motorcycle unit. City officials said the motorcycle
escort was requested by the family. The procession is expected to pass
Prescott Senior Elementary School, where Alberto recently started the seventh
officials said they would pay for the boy's funeral and help repair damage to
the Sepulveda home, but family members rejected the offer.
accepting their money for the funeral it's like saying what they did was OK.
It's not OK," said Felipe Martinez, the boy's uncle. "When they
killed him, they took part of our lives away. We're still angry."
friends and reporters crowded around Martinez in front of the Riverbank
Memorial Chapel, where a public viewing was held Monday evening. Inside, a
stream of men, women and children paid their respects. City Councilman Mike
Serpa was among those attending.
and carnations surrounded the boy's black coffin at the front of the chapel
positioned beneath a lit portrait of Jesus with the crown of thorns. A ribbon
with the message: "You are forever loved," was lightly clasped in
his hands, rosary beads woven through his fingers.
him I love him and that I miss him," said his 8-year-old sister, Xitlalic
Latino community advocates held bilingual signs: "Solamente Pedimos
Justicia" (We only ask for justice) and "We protest the racist
murder of 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda."
justice," said Miguel Donoso, who carried one of the signs. "We want
a federal investigation."
At least four
separate investigations -- two reviews by the Police Department, one by the
city attorney's office and one by the district attorney's office -- are under
organizations -- the Los Banos chapter of the Mexican-American Political
Association and the Modesto chapter of the American GI Forum -- want outside
agencies, such as the California attorney general, to investigate the
shooting. Wasden said his department would welcome either a state or federal
can't bring this little boy back," Wasden said. "We need to learn,
move forward and make sure nothing like this ever happens again. Clearly, this
investigation is going to change the way we do business. It would be an even
bigger tragedy if it weren't."
Hawn, whose shotgun discharged when he was pointing it at the boy, remains on
paid leave, and Wasden said Monday he wasn't sure when Hawn would return to
officer was involved in a previous shooting incident with the SWAT team in
February 1999. Police were investigating a man with guns and drugs in his La
Loma area home. The man committed suicide before police entered. A pit bull
attacked the officers when they went inside and Hawn's gun discharged.
Investigators ruled that the man was already dead and Hawn was exonerated.
Sepulveda was fatally shot on Wednesday as he lay face down on his bedroom
floor, as ordered by the officers.
earlier, Hawn and other SWAT team members stormed inside to secure the house
before federal drug agents entered to arrest the boy's father, 33-year-old
say they may never may know how Hawn's gun discharged. Wasden said one
possibility is that something accidentally moved the trigger as Hawn pointed
the gun at the boy -- perhaps the handle of a knife.
a firearms expert who has reconstructed gun accidents for the past 25 years,
said the trigger on Hawn's weapon, a 12-gauge Bernelli shotgun, had to have
the trigger's pulled, it won't go off," he said.
could have come from Hawn's finger, he said, or, as Wasden suggested, clothing
or equipment could have snagged the trigger when the officer was jostled in
the shooting, other officers heard Hawn say his finger was not on the trigger.
can say is nothing we've found at this point indicates that this was anything
but an accident," Wasden said.
conclusion did little to ease the pain of family members.
say it's accidental. They say, 'Oops, sorry,' " said Martinez, the boy's
uncle. "Oops, there's an 11-year-old boy who's dead. All the sorries and
excuses in the world will not bring him back."
funeral home Monday, Sepulveda held his shaking wife, Sonia.
took a part of my heart, a part of my life away," Sepulveda said.
"He was the happiest child, and they came in and stole his life."
he said, will return to live in their home on McAdoo Avenue.
will stay the same. His room will stay the same," Sepulveda said.
"My son was happy and we were happy in that house. ... When we go back he
will be there with us."
refused to answer any questions about the criminal case against him. On the
morning his son died, Sepulveda was arrested on a federal warrant charging him
with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. He was released two days later
after promising to use equity in his home to a secure a $20,000 bail bond by
the end of the month.
lived in Stanislaus County for 15 years, five of them in the Highway Village
home. He has no felony convictions in Stanislaus County. City officials said
Monday that no drugs or weapons were found in the house. Cash was found.
agents requested the use of SWAT teams to secure the Sepulveda residence and
13 other locations in coordinated predawn raids aimed at cracking a major
methamphetamine distribution network.
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