Officers led to think murder suspect lived in unit
HANAHAN — Brandie Williams sat on the couch of her family's apartment Sunday morning when someone pounded on the door and a voice shouted, "This is the Hanahan Police Department! Open up!"
The 15-year-old girl on Wednesday said she didn't have a chance to answer the door when police officers searching for a homicide suspect kicked it open and ordered her to the ground at gunpoint.
Working quickly, the officers then kicked a hole in the bedroom door where Brandie's mother, Tina, was asleep. Tina Williams said she was forced to her knees with two guns pointed at her face while her 13-year-old son, Brandon, was forced onto his stomach, a gun trained on his back. When all three were cuffed, an officer asked Tina Williams if she knew any Hispanic males. Williams was baffled.
It all turned out to be a mistake.
The officers, looking for one of three suspects in the fatal shooting of a man at the OK Corral about six hours earlier, had obtained a search warrant for the Williams' apartment after a witness told them a suspect lived inside.
Hanahan Police Lt. Michael Fowler said Wednesday that they had received bad information and apologized to the Williams family — but they can't apologize for why they did it.
"We hit the door fully expecting an armed murder suspect on the other side," Fowler said.
Tina Williams said the incident has traumatized her family, and she questions why it ever happened. She can't sleep, Brandie couldn't talk for two days and Brandon now fears the police, she said.
"I didn't care about me, but they treated my kids like dogs," Tina Williams said. "What if one of those guns had gone off?"
Fowler said they did have their guns displayed but denied that officers ever pointed the guns at the woman and her children.
"We did not put guns to their heads," Fowler said.
Williams said the officers should have done more to verify who lived inside the Sedgefield apartment where she and her family have lived for more than a year. She said three Hispanic men live in her building — one of several white buildings with red shutters in the complex — but hers was the only door that was knocked down.
She's especially puzzled because she said she and her family knew at least three of the officers who raided the apartment — including one officer who had been in their home less than two weeks earlier to take a written statement from Brandie, who had been a witness to an unrelated crime.
"If they had done a proper investigation, they would have known he didn't live here," Tina Williams said.
The shooting happened inside the Hispanic club on Remount Road between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. A 23-year-old Hispanic male, whose name still has not been released, was pronounced dead inside.
Fowler said a Hispanic witness took a bilingual officer to the Williams apartment and pointed to it, indicating that one of the suspects lived there. Fowler said they took that and other information to a judge, who decided they had enough probable cause to enter the apartment.
At 10:25 a.m., after obtaining the search warrant, officers knocked in the door.
"It turns out he was wrong," Fowler said of the suspect. "We just got bad information."
Fowler denied that the same officer who had talked to Brandie 11 days earlier entered their apartment during the raid, saying the family might have confused him with another officer.
Fowler said they immediately began to knock on the neighbors' doors once they realized the mistake because they didn't have warrants to enter those apartments. He said none of the Williams' neighbors were involved in the shooting.
He said he told the apartment complex to send the police department the bill for the door an officer kicked through in the Williams' apartment.
"We're embarrassed about it," Fowler said. "Obviously we made a mistake. But we owe it to the victim and the victim's family to approach it like a murder suspect was inside. I'm not going to apologize for trying to catch a murder suspect."
Fowler said police were close to identifying all three suspects. He could not be reached Wednesday night to confirm reports that a warrant had been issued for one of the suspects.