The Death of Gonzalo Guizan

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

I’ve posted on the Guizan case a number of times before. In May 2008, Guizan was visiting his friend Ronald Terebesi in Easton, Connnecticut—Guizan’s family says it was to discuss a new business. He was killed later that night during a SWAT-like police raid. (In this part of Connecticut, it’s called the SWERT.)

Terebesi doesn’t seem like the sort of guy you’d necessarily want living next to you. Neighbors reported frequent visits from prostitutes, drug use, and that Terebesi would watch porn in his living room. One jealous boyfriend apparently fired a shotgun into Terebesi’s house. But I don’t know why any of things would justify a SWERT raid.

And in fact, the raid came after a prostitute who had previously visited Terebesi reported he had been using—not dealing—cocaine the night of the raid. Guizan, who had no prior criminal record, was shot and killed by police shortly after they entered Terebesi’s home.

Four years later, the Connecticut Post looks at what we’ve learned since then.

On the morning of May 18, 2008, the Easton Police Department got a telephone call from “Chandra Parker.”

It turns out that wasn’t her real name, but that didn’t matter. Solomon now had a reason to take action against Terebesi.

He called in members of the Southwest Regional Emergency Response Team, a SWAT force made up of police officers from Easton and four surrounding towns. Nine heavily armed officers charged into the home based on a search warrant that a miniscule amount of drugs had been seen there by Parker.

When the operation was over, Guizan, who was visiting Terebesi, had been shot dead . . .

Two officers expressed misgivings about the operation prior to its launch. The team’s commander urged it be delayed; another officer suggested the SWAT-style raid wasn’t even necessary. But Solomon insisted the raid had to be conducted that day.

A member of the team with the most critical role in the May 18 raid had received most of his training for a far different role in such an operation. He arrived an hour late to the pre-raid briefing.

And the woman whose complaint led to the search warrant and the raid had a criminal record and gave a false name to officers preparing the warrant — all of which was never conveyed to the judge who authorized the search.

The lawsuit charges that the raid by the Southwest Regional Emergency Response Team should never have been ordered.

“The decision to call out SWERT to execute the warrant was unjustified, unreasonable, an arbitrary abuse of police power and not based on a legitimate law enforcement objective,” the suit states. “It was intended to frighten, intimidate, harass and/or punish Terebisi and Guizan and, on information and belief, to further Solomon’s interests.”

Solomon, who had been chief since 1995, recently retired from the police department. His lawyer did not return calls and emails for comment. In his deposition testimony he states that based on the information he has now he would not have done anything differently in ordering the SWAT team to raid Terebesi’s home. He claimed he wanted the raid done as soon as possible to ensure that evidence of criminal activity was not destroyed before they could seize it. He continued the raid was necessary to “obtain the evidence that the crime — obviously a crime was occurring, and to obtain that evidence.”

That alleged crime requiring such urgent, overpowering police action, once again, was a man using cocaine in his living room.

Police would learn later Parker’s real name was Pankov and she had a criminal record, including convictions for interfering with police, assault of a police officer, threatening and harrassment — all things they later acknowledged might have made a difference to the judge who reviewed and signed the search warrant. But that information was not provided to the judge . . .

Cirillo told [the SWERT officers] assembled that Terebesi was known to have guns in his house, had fought with officers before and that there was a good chance he was going to shoot at officers during the raid, according to court records.

Terebesi did have a handgun, which he owned legally. There was no history of him fighting with police officers. In fact, he had been served with an arrest warrant a month earlier after an EMT found glass pipes in his bed. (EMTs had been called after a report someone was having a seizure in Terebesi’s home.) He agreed to turn himself in, and was described by police as “‘congenial,’ and even ‘friendly'” while he was booked. So telling the SWERT team Terebesi has previously been violent with police was a lie.

They began to count down. Ten, nine, eight. …

At one there was the sound of breaking glass and the explosions of flashbangs at the other side of the house.

The back door was smashed open and the stack went in, Weir yelling, “Police, warrant.”

Another explosion as a flashbang went off.

Sweeney yelled, “I’m hit, I’m hit,” and then a volley of gunfire ensued.

It was over in about 15 seconds.

A lifeless Guizan lay on the floor with six gunshot wounds, one through his left hand that penetrated his chest, two shots to the abdomen, a gunshot in his left groin, one to the right knee and one to the right upper arm. Terebesi, who had been pinned by Sweeney, was handcuffed and dragged out of the house.

Team members searched the room and found two crack pipes and a tin containing a small amount of cocaine. No guns.

He had been “hit,” lightly, with the effects of one of his own flash grenades.

As Sweeney had entered Terebesi’s home the third flashbang had gone off. Debris from the explosion had hit him in the chest and foot and he mistakenly thought someone in the house was shooting at him. When Sweeney yelled that he had been hit, Weir, believing his comrade was under attack, fired one shot but didn’t hit anyone.

Sweeney said later that he had taken three or four steps into the room and then looked to his right where he saw Terebesi and Guizan in a corner of the room. Sweeney said he took two or three shuffle steps towards them.

At that point, he said, Terebesi and Guizan came toward him. Terebesi pushed and pulled on Sweeney’s shield while Guizan grabbed at Sweeney’s gun hand, pulling it downward. Sweeney said he began to lose his grip on his pistol and began firing until he felt Guizan let go of his gun. According to the video, this whole confrontation would have occurred in about a second.

Weir said later he saw no struggle between Sweeney and the two men.

During a deposition a frustrated Sweeney asked: “Why didn’t we just knock on the door?”

Of course, even if Guizan had fought with Sweeney, the most likely explanation is that he thought Terebesi’s home was being invaded. It’s much less likely that a guy with no criminal record or history of violence would knowingly take on a SWAT team . . . while unarmed.

Here’s the coda, now almost obligatory in these stories:

Sweeney received his department’s Officer of the Year award for his part in the raid.

For mistakenly believing he had been shot, then opening fire on an unarmed man, all because a prostitute had told police that the dead man’s friend was using cocaine in the privacy of his own home . . . for this, Officer Sweeney was declared “Officer of the Year.”

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51 Responses to “The Death of Gonzalo Guizan”

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