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Pasco sheriff defends SWAT raid of couple's home

MOON LAKE — Pasco SWAT team members on Tuesday broke down the door and searched an older couple's home for their grandson. They searched for hours for Aaron Vineyard and the guns and stolen goods he allegedly was keeping, but didn't find him or his loot in the home.

Carl Stark, 71, and his wife Juanita, 73, said they are furious that SWAT members broke into their house at 9808 Sholtz St., and shouted orders at them to get on the ground, breaking several decorations and a window in the process. They said their grandson, Vineyard, 36, lives in a trailer next door at 9812 Sholtz St., and they rarely see or speak to him.

At a news conference on Friday, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said he stands behind his deputies' actions. Before the Tuesday night SWAT raid, he said, investigators were working with an informant to bring down a 12-man crime ring of which they believe Vineyard is a member.

The group had been stealing TVs, jewelry, laptops, a camera and guns from houses in the area since December, a sheriff's report states. The informant told deputies he sold some of the stolen items, including a 12-gauge shotgun and a .45-caliber handgun, to Vineyard at the grandparents' home. Deputies already knew Vineyard as the former president of a local Aryan Brotherhood chapter.

Nocco said his men weren't taking chances when they decided to search the home Tuesday night. The SWAT team got the house they meant to, he said.

"I have no regrets in the operation that was performed," Nocco said. "The fact that we put safety first, we're not going to apologize for that."

The Starks said they don't feel secure in their home anymore. A broken drawer and crushed lamp shade lay in their tiny, fragile living room. There is a board over their front window that was smashed in. There's a burn mark in the tile from a flash grenade. Picture frames and glass trinkets crashed to the floor. A clock on the wall is stopped at 9:12, when the batteries fell out from the impact of the door being kicked in.

Carl Stark has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is connected to an oxygen tank with a long tube that trails around the house. He said the smoke grenades could have killed him.

Sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said SWAT members' actions "ensured the safety of all of those inside the house and deputies executing the search warrant."

As for paying for the damage to the home, the Sheriff's Office said the family can send a request to the agency's legal unit. "However, the reason our SWAT team was there was due to their grandson utilizing their residence to further his burglary ring," Tobin said.

Vineyard was still reported at large late Friday afternoon. Deputies have arrested Mark Alan Hoppenstedt, 26; Randy Petersilge, 23; Jeffrey Watson, 21; and Kristopher Watson, 25, on charges of burglary and dealing in stolen property and expect to arrest more members of the ring. The investigation is ongoing.

Alex Orlando can be reached at aorlando@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco sheriff defends SWAT raid of couple's home 02/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 8:39pm]
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