Note: The "Raid of the Day" features accounts of police raids I've found, researched, and reported while writing my forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. It's due out in July, but you can pre-order it here.
In February 2007, police in the small town of Wharton, Texas say an informant told them about drug sales going on in a home on Sunset Street. The police didn't bother to attempt to buy any drugs themselves, or send an informant to attempt a buy. Instead, one officer reported observing heavy traffic at the home, which was inhabited by 17-year-old Daniel Castillo, his parents, his brother, his sister, and his sister's one-year-old child.
On February 17, the police conducted an early morning raid. According to Ashley Castillo, Daniel's sister, she, her brother, and her child were sleeping when the police came in. She woke up, stunned, and screamed at the intruders, "Pleases don't shoot my baby!" Her cries woke up her brother Daniel, who rose from his bed to defend her. That's when Sgt. Don Falks shot Castillo in the face, killing him.
Falks -- who according to Castillo's family was known around Wharton as "The Terminator" -- told a different story. He said Castillo was awake when he entered the room, and lying in wait. When he entered, he said Castillo punched him in the fact, then reached for an object from his waistband that Falks believed to be a gun. (A small knife was found near Castillo's body.)
Days after the raid, Wharton County Sheriff Jess Howell noted that Sgt. Falks had been given counseling to deal with the trauma from the raid. No one offered the Castillo family similar counseling. The following month, a grand jury declined to indict Falks on any criminal charges.
Daniel Castillo had no criminal record. He had recently enlisted in the Army. The police later claimed to have found $5,000 worth of cocaine and marijuana and to have arrested an uncle of Castillo's during the raid. The Castillo family said the drugs were found in a car parked in the family driveway belonging to a boyfriend of one of Castillo's sisters, and that he -- not an uncle -- was the one arrested. Castillo's 14-year-old brother was also arrested after demanding to see a search warrant. He was later released with no charges.
Of course, even if we assume everything about the police account to be true -- that someone was dealing drugs from the Castillo home, and that Daniel Castillo came at Sgt. Falks with a knife -- the incident illustrates the perils of forced-entry drug raids. It seems unlikely that Castillo, given his background and plans for the future -- would have knowingly attacked a heavily armed, heavily armored police officer with a knife. It seems far more likely that he thought Falks was a criminal intruder who had broken into his bedroom, and was protecting his sister and her child.
Castillo's aunt later wrote of the incident:
The entire family is afraid that people are going to see this as "oh well, just one less young hispanic male for us to deal with." They've got the wrong family this time. They will not come into our homes and kill our children and then move on with their lives. As long as we have no justice, we will always be there to remind them that an innocent young life was taken. They didn't even give him a chance to be tried and convicted of anything. That lone cop was the judge, jury and executioner. They shot him as he stood next to his sister who was holding her 1 year old baby. They hauled his mother away in handcuffs as she struggled to get to her son. They refused to even let her contact his father at work to let him know that his son had been shot. His 14 year old brother got reasonably upset and demanded to see the warrant. They arrested him for "interfering with a police investigation" and hauled him off to juvie. To this day, the only reason they even got a hint of what was in the warrant was because the media was able to get it before them.
When word spread that Danny had been shot, the police blocked off the ER at the local hospital and kept everyone out. (Its a very small town and word spreads fast.) . . .
The family just wants to know why. Why did they do this? Was it an accident? Was he spooked by something? Just give us some sort of reason. Its all so senseless. Junior is dead. He will never graduate high school, he will never get married or have children. All beacsue some informant told them that a "David Castillo" was dealing drugs out of the house and the police believed him. Had anyone ever just gone to the house and knocked on the door, they would have discovered that there was NO David Castillo at that residence. There was a mother, father, their children and two grandchildren. Why didn't someone do that? WHY?
The Castillo family's federal lawsuit was settled in 2009. The terms of the settlement are bound by a confidentiality agreement. As of January, Falk was still with the Wharton Police Department.