By Chuck Strouse
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Miami-Dade Det. Kenny Veloz took a call from a buddy cop, Kendall District Sgt. Carlos Dominguez, in December of 2000. Dominguez's parents and grandparents lived in an apartment complex on SW 96th Street and SW 142nd Avenue in Veloz's own Hammocks District. Dominguez told Veloz that his folks didn't like the looks of the tenants downstairs. Too many ghetto-garbed rabble-rousers going in and out -- a definite bad sign. Veloz needed to do something for the officer's parents' sake. So he informed his partner, Sgt. Lazaro Picallo, that they'd check out the lead along with three other officers from their General Investigations Unit (GIU).
A stakeout on December 23rd led the cops to believe the apartment, belonging to one Travis Allen, was easy pickings. They stopped and arrested several drug buyers on their way out of the building, but the prize pop was a kid named Kevin Phillips. Philips had nothing but a couple of grams of reefer on him, but a whole lot to say, once he got a look at the concrete stares of the arresting police. Detective Veloz said in a deposition that Phillips told him there were drugs being dealt in Allen's pad (mainly by Allen, mainly weed), and there were guns in the apartment. The kid's eyewitness account might have been enough for a legal search warrant, but these were cops, not lawyers or judges, and somehow, they never attempted to get one. The officers later explained that Allen's impending eviction forced their hand.
In any case, the police planned on asking Allen for a "consent to search" -- the only legal way to get into the premises without a warrant. The logic was, if they saw something illegal through the open door, they'd have a right to enter. But they admit in statements that Phillips told them Allen would not open the door for them. He checked everyoneout through the peephole. So the plan was to wait for someone to come out; then they'd have the opportunity to identify themselves, get a peek, and maybe go in.
The squad hunkered down in a nondescript white van in the building's parking lot around 11:30 that evening. A car pulled up during the surveillance, and Hector Torres stepped out. The 5-foot-4, 150-pound Hispanic youngster looked like a dealer -- shaved head, wife-beater tank top, "jailhouse" tats, and a "delinquent demeanor" that cops say they can read immediately. Torres opened his trunk and pulled out a duffel bag. The cops may have been thinking, 'Bingo! Drugs! Guns! Promotions!' Torres looked around "suspiciously," according to police reports, then entered the premises.
When Luis Castaneda arrived for a sack of weed, the squad of five GIU officers -- detectives Erick Gonzalez, William Sanchez, and Gabriel Suros had joined Veloz and Picallo -- the cops decided to act. The tagalong crew was positioned downstairs, and Veloz and Picallo crept up to the front door of Allen's second-floor apartment. It was time to take out some drug dealers.
According to court testimony and police depositions, as the front door opened, Veloz saw Torres, the "delinquent-looking one" with the duffel bag. He was sitting at the far right of the room picking up what looked like a "submachine gun and pistol." That's when the police say shots were fired. Torres was hit and crumpled to the floor. The first officer through the door, Veloz, wasn't the one who discharged his weapon, though. It was Picallo, second man in. He subsequently claimed he'd warned Torres to "drop the guns," and that Torres simply ignored him and continued "to lift the two weapons with an intent to kill." That's what the cops said.
Hector Torres remembers fooling around with a PlayStation at Allen's apartment before the cops busted in. The 26-year-old car audio installer says he was just hanging out, a little stoned from the blunt he'd smoked and tired from a long day of paintball. Torres and Allen began a roughhouse day of childish horseplay by shooting paint pellets inside the apartment. "We were just messing around," Torres says. By the end of the morning, neon pink and blue were splattered across the walls in retaliation for Allen's pending eviction notice. Later the mock spec-ops soldiers took their recon games to the forests near Krome Avenue, staining the woods with baby colors, blasting paint and running at each other with ten-year-olds' whoops, sliding and flailing through the sawgrass and mud. They stayed out until the sun went down.
After dark, Hector went home to his wife Patsy and their two daughters. He showered off the day's combat, ate some dinner, and after TVing it for a couple of hours, announced he was going over to Allen's place again, because Allen wanted him to help clean up their paintball artillery and equipment, which was "filthy." Patsy wanted Hector to stay home with her, because he'd been out all day, but he shrugged her off. A bad mistake.
It was close to 1:00 a.m. on the 24th when Torres sat slouched on the sofa with his paintball gun on his lap. A duffel bag full of paintball junk was on the floor near his feet. Carlos Campos, like Hector not a dealer, just a friend who needed a place to crash, sat across the living room from Torres. Allen was doing his penny-ante reefer biz as usual, but the traffic wasn't heavy. Allen kicked Luis Castaneda a nickel bag of funk in the kitchen while everyone else was chilling by the tube. Then Allen approached his front door, bolted by three heavy-duty locks. Campos remembers an eerie calm before Allen let Luis out (leaving the premises is always an elaborate, slow process in dope-dealing dens): "As Travis turned the last lock on the door, it suddenly slammed open and guys in T-shirts and jeans with guns in their hands came in screaming. They grabbed Luis by the face and threw him on the ground. I thought we were getting robbed and going to die."