BY ROBERT MORALES
EXCLUSIVE TO THE VAN HORN ADVOCATE
At about 6 a.m. last Thursday, federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided the house of Richard Gomez on JFK and Seventh Streets. Agents broke the front door to gain entry and they immediately tackled Mr. Gomez to the floor and handcuffed him.
Startled and still halfway asleep, Mr. Gomez asked the agents about the intrusion into his home. Mr. Gomez gave the Advocate an exclusive interview about the incident that has left him reeling.
After apprehending Mr. Gomez, he asked the ICE agents why they had stormed into his house. At first, the agents didnâ€™t say anything, Mr. Gomez said. About 30 minutes later, when the lead investigator showed up, the agents said that they were serving a search warrant for child exploitation materials. The agents were from the Presidio ICE office.
According to Mr. Gomez, the search warrant was based upon wrong information.
“Because the original warrant was inaccurate, that made the entire warrant illegal, which in turn, violated my Fourth Amendment rights,â€ said Mr. Gomez.
The search warrant, said Mr. Gomez originated from the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Alpine.
As Mr. Gomez explained, he heard knocking at the front door while he was still sleeping. He said he figured that anyone who wanted to break in would not knock, and he surmised that perhaps someone needed help. By the time he got out of bed to find out what the disturbance was, agents had already pried open the front door.
“This whole matter was a result of gross incompetence,â€ said Mr. Gomez.
Mr. Gomez was transported from his home to the local Border Patrol station for questioning. He would soon learn that someone had downloaded child pornography from the internet, and that the IP address had been allegedly traced to Mr. Gomezâ€™s residence.
An IP address (Internet Protocol) is a specific group of numbers assigned to a computer by an internet service provider, and itâ€™s essentially the same thing as a mailing address or a global positioning system (GPS). GPS is now widely used in vehicles to find destinations.
To be clear, the agents were not conducting an arrest warrant, but rather, a search warrant for all of the electronics that could potentially contain images or videos of child exploitation.
Mr. Gomez was surprised to find out that his house was surrounded by a host of law enforcement officials including DPS and Border Patrol. However, the agents did not notify Sheriff Carrillo about the sting operation.
Agents confiscated all of Mr. Gomezâ€™s electronic equipment that included laptops, computers, tablets videos and cameras.
Once at the Border Patrol station, Mr. Gomez kept telling agents that they had made a huge mistake and that they had the wrong house. “Of course, they didnâ€™t want to hear any of that,â€ said Mr. Gomez.
“With all the resources at their disposal, they couldnâ€™t verify and re-check the address to make sure it was correct?â€ Mr. Gomez asked. “Everyone knows the gossip that takes place in a small town. On the east side of town people are already talking about my house being raided. By the time the gossip reaches the west side of town, now Iâ€™m a mass murder.â€
Mr. Gomez was shocked to find that the federal agents had not contacted the Sheriffâ€™s Office about an investigation that had been taking place regarding child pornography case that had been tracked to Van Horn.
The agents eventually conceded that they had raided the wrong address.
As for the property damage and the chaos the agents left at Mr. Gomezâ€™s house, he said he will have to file “a formâ€ to get reimbursed for any repairs, but that doesnâ€™t account for the hours it will take him to get his house back in order.
Sheriff Oscar Carrillo expressed his frustration with the manner in which the federal officials handled the situation.
“They came in with good intentions to investigate a serious crime,but the federal agents had no communication with local officials,â€Mr. Carrillo said. “I question their tactics and their failure to validate their information beforehand.â€
After the bungled first attempt at finding the right house, federal officials did visit with Mr. Carrillo, and the agents did go to the correct address, where a registered sexual offender lives in Van Horn.
“I am very upset that this situation took place,â€ said Mr. Carrillo. “This happened because there was zero communication between various law enforcement agencies. If the federal officials had taken the time to notify us about the house they were intending to serve a search warrant on, we would have cooperated with them in order that they would get it right the first time.â€
Mr. Carrillo is traveling to Austin to meet with Department of Public Safety Director Steven McGraw. Mr. McGraw asked Mr. Carrillo to visit with him in Austin to discuss this situation as well as other issues related to the lack of communication between law enforcement agencies.