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Gazette Premium Content Grandmother sues over flash-bang grenade raid

LANCE BENZEL Updated: October 11, 2011 at 12:00 am

A Colorado Springs grandmother who suffered a heart attack when drug agents stormed into her home in 2009 has filed suit claiming the officers’ tactics were “extreme, unreasonable and outrageous.”

Rose Ann Santistevan, 71, is suing for medical expenses and noneconomic losses such as pain and suffering.

An emphysema sufferer, Santistevan was alone in bed receiving oxygen on Oct. 6, 2009, when a multijurisdictional SWAT task force with a search warrant surrounded her home in the 200 block of South Prospect Street. They threw in a flash-bang grenade before rushing in with guns drawn, authorities have confirmed.

Stricken by a heart attack, Santistevan was admitted in critical condition at Memorial Hospital Central, where she remained for several days. A search of her home yielded no arrests and turned up no drugs, the family said.

The personal injury suit — filed in June in U.S. District Court in Denver — marks the latest allegation to plague a major drug operation dubbed Operation Jeez Luis.

The seven-month probe was spearheaded by the FBI Safe Streets Task Force and involved the multiagency Metro, Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Unit. It includes members of Colorado Springs police and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, who are named as defendants along with the FBI.

The agencies hyped their crackdown at a 2009 news conference announcing the arrests of 16 drug suspects allegedly tied to the Sureños street gang.

What the authorities left out, however, is that an FBI mole who was paid to infiltrate the group tried to kill a man he was supposed to be spying on.

Robert “Payaso” Rodarte, a reputed gang member with a long rap sheet, left a meeting with his FBI handlers in February 2009 and allegedly shot up a home belonging to Jorge “Wicked” Perez, the FBI’s chief investigative target, in the 700 block of East Cucharras Street, a few doors down from where Santistevan lived.

No one was injured but the family said a bullet pierced a woman’s pant leg and passed within inches of a 4-year-old boy.

The shooting spawned another lawsuit still pending in U.S. District Court in Denver.

Rodarte was dropped from the FBI payroll and charged with multiple counts of attempted murder and other crimes. He was sentenced in June 2010 to 20 years in prison after accepting a plea deal.

According to court documents, Rodarte and five accomplices were seeking revenge for an earlier drug robbery in Colorado Springs. The shooting was recorded by an FBI device embedded under Rodarte’s clothing, authorities said.

Another setback for investigators came in 2010, when a 4th Judicial District judge tossed out wiretap evidence against the group, finding that another judge inappropriately granted permission for the eavesdropping. The ruling was later overturned on appeal, and the wiretap evidence was readmitted.

Santistevan’s home was searched on a day when her son and other relatives were arrested during a series of SWAT raids in Colorado Springs.

The family said agents were watching the home and should have known Santistevan, who is disabled, would be alone.

Joseph Santistevan, a son who wasn’t implicated in the drug ring, said the authorities believed Perez had been hiding drugs inside his mother’s home after seeing him carry in a birthday cake for a relative’s party.

Representatives of the agencies involved couldn’t be reached for comment.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Lt. Lari Sevene defended the raid in 2009, saying a SWAT task force was acting on information gathered during the investigation.

“You have to look at the individuals we’re dealing with and what their prior history is,” she said, referring to the drug suspects.

 

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