RIPON (CBS13) — A Ripon family at the center of a search warrant as part of an ongoing investigation into an illegal fireworks operation called the tactics used by law enforcement to serve the warrant “excessive.”
In short clips taken from the family’s security cameras (one at the front door and one above the garage) nearly twelve law enforcement officers walk single file toward the home. This came after an announcement was made for the family to come out with their hands in the air.READ MORE: California Lawmakers To Vote On $307.9 Billion Spending Plan
In the videos reviewed by CBS13, Nicole McCurdy walked out of her home with her hands in the air. Her 3-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, with their hands in the air, followed closely behind her.
“It was humiliating, it was terrifying what they put my kids through,” said McCurdy.
In the security video clip, McCurdy announces to law enforcement she is with her children she is heard saying, “I have a 3-year-old and a 16-year-old.” When McCurdy and her children get to the end of their property an officer is heard on the recording saying, “Thank you, ma’am, come this way.”
What brought law enforcement to the Ripon home Wednesday afternoon: a warrant as part of an illegal fireworks investigation, according to a statement by the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, share after CBS13 aired interviews with the family. In their garage, McCurdy told CBS13 they had stockpiled nearly $5,000 worth of fireworks ahead of a Fourth of July neighborhood celebration.
“I don’t understand when we were trying to do something nice for the community, like we have in previous years, why it turned into something like this,” said Michael Schirmer, McCurdy’s husband.
Schirmer said they started hosting the Fourth of July celebration, with fireworks, in front of their home for the neighborhood three years ago. He said this year, he opted to purchase fireworks online weeks ahead of the celebration. This, he believed, was one of the issues that brought law enforcement to his home with guns drawn.
See an extended interview with Nicole McCurdy below.
“You see your 3-year-old come out with his hands up, you hear the police say keep your hands up put your hands up,” said Schirmer, when asked about watching the security video of his wife and children walk out of the house.
McCurdy said her son is “traumatized” by the ordeal and wished law enforcement would of let him walk out of the home without his hands up.
“When I look at the video of my 3-year-old coming out of the house with his hands up, I’ve never felt a feeling like that in my entire life. I hope I never have to again,” said McCurdy.
The fireworks were stored in the Schirmer’s garage and photos of them were posted to social media by family members to notify the community of their Fourth of July plans. They wouldn’t disclose what website they used to purchase the fireworks, but Schirmer said they were delivered to his front door. In the weeks before the raid, Schirmer said he spoke to two Ripon Police Officers on separate occasions about the fireworks without issue.
He said they were never notified of any broken laws and believed the fireworks they purchased were legal in California.
This law, they said they learned about once law enforcement began to search their home, was not the case. Some of the fireworks purchased had the California State Fire Marshal’s Safe and Sane seal, which denotes that the firework is approved for use in a specific time frame. These marked as “Safe and Sane” can be sold from noon June 28th through noon July 6th every year, unless there is a local ordinance adopted that is more restrictive, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.READ MORE: Rices Fire Updates: Evacuation Advisories Upgraded To Warnings In Yuba County
The Schirmers said they were in possession of fireworks before June 28, but told CBS13 they did not know they were breaking any laws. Schirmer and McCurdy both told CBS13 they had fireworks with California’s Safe and Sane seal and others that did not. All of the fireworks were confiscated along with Marijuana kept inside the family’s home, McCurdy said.
Another concern shared with CBS13 by the family: their injured dogs. A puppy and a senior dog, McCurdy said, were hit by, what she believed, were rubber bullets shot by the deputies who executed the search warrant. She said it left an injury on the dog that is visible and showed CBS13 a photo of the injuries they said stemmed from the incident.
McCurdy said deputies offered to transport the family pets to a veterinarian for treatment, but she said she declined as to not put their senior dog “through more.” This fact, confirmed in the sheriff’s office statement:
“Further, to clarify, the deputies were forced to deploy less lethal after their dog tried to attack them; deputies offered to get the dog veterinarian care which the family declined.”
Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness reviewed the security video clips provided to CBS13 and said he did not see excessive force.
McGinness, when asked about situations when deputies would react in this way, said it would happen if threatened by the animals or deputies believed they were in danger of being attacked.
According to the Office of the State Fire Marshal’s Health and Safety Code Fireworks Violations, storing fireworks without a permit is a violation. As part of the 6-page warrant reviewed by CBS13 and given to McCurdy by law enforcement, fireworks are listed one of the items that may be considered as part of the search.
“I don’t see any evidence of excessive force depicted In these videos whatsoever,” said McGinness. He explained a warrant is not a suggestion, but a document authorized by the court. He said, based on what he saw in the video, knowing no other information about the investigation, the warrant was executed as it should have been.
“As I understand it, it calls for searching the specified premises for the specified purpose of finding unlawful fireworks, so the warrant was properly executed,” said McGinness.
As for the teenager and 3-year-old walking out of the house, he said he understood the family’s concerns, but from a law enforcement perspective, the tactical approach was for the safety “of all involved.”
Buying Fireworks Online: What’s Legal in California?
Sales of consumer fireworks [Safe-and-Sane products] over the Internet to California residents constitutes a violation of the California Health and Safety Code. This law states that it is illegal for any person to import or export, manufacture, sale or offer to sale fireworks to California fireworks into or from California without an import/export license. Only fireworks and pyrotechnic devices that bear the Seal of Registration of the State Fire Marshal can be transported within the state.
A device that is transported into the state without a printed Seal of Registration, is an unregistered device, its classification is unknown and it is illegal, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Informational Bulletin.
Schirmer told CBS13 their family has retained an attorney who advised not to share the name of the website where the fireworks were purchased.
CBS13: Getting Answers Process
After speaking with the Schirmer family, CBS13 contacted a spokesperson for the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office with the family’s concerns of excessive force. At the time, before the piece aired, the department’s spokesperson told CBS13 they did not have a comment because it was still under investigation.
When asked and given the opportunity to provide more information, the sheriff’s office did not inform CBS13 of any knowledge of criminal history and firearms in the home. This information was shared in a statement posted to social media Friday, after the CBS13 interviews and stories aired.
In the statement, the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Office responded to “County residents” that expressed “concern over a search warrant” at the Schirmer’s Ripon home. In this statement, the sheriff’s office confirmed the home was involved in an ongoing investigation of an illegal fireworks operation.
When reached for comment, this information was not provided to CBS13 by the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office. No further comment or context was provided when asked Friday afternoon. In the statement shared Friday evening, Sergeant Izaguirre is quoted:
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“Illegal fireworks, especially large quantities like with this case, are incredibly dangerous to the residents and community. Too many times we have seen people seriously injured or killed, as well as property damaged due to their use.”
In a comment on the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, a spokesperson replied to a comment that the body-worn camera footage would be released next week.