Dog Day Afternoon

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There was no sign of the cop-killer bullets. Perhaps they are buried somewhere out in the desert, with Saddam's plutonium.

Given the overwhelming display of force deployed by Arpaio's deputies, one would have expected the arrest of a mass murderer.

Instead, the crack SWAT boys nabbed 26-year-old Eric Kush. Let me tell you, Kush is really a bad, bad guy.

He was wanted on a misdemeanor warrant for failing to appear in Tempe Municipal Court on a couple of traffic citations.

Thank God he's off the street. Well, not quite. He posted his $1,000 bond on the misdemeanor warrant and was quickly released from jail.

Arpaio's Ahwatukee assault should have drawn banner headlines in the daily newspapers. But the Arizona Republic, where Arpaio's son-in-law, Phil Boas, serves as deputy editor of the editorial pages, buried the story in a community section. The East Valley Tribune ignored it entirely.

The local papers missed a helluva story.

Needless to say, neighbors are infuriated.

"The operation was completely and grossly mishandled," says Justin Delfino's father, Gene.

"They endangered my son and other people in this neighborhood," Gene adds. "I would love to see their reaction if this happened in their neighborhood."

I'm not criticizing the sheriff's department for investigating activities at the Ahwatukee home occupied by Gabrial Golden, Andrea Barker and Eric Kush.

There are clear indications that these young people living in an upscale rental home might have been engaged in some serious criminal activity.

My gripe is that Arpaio's SWAT team embarked on extreme and dangerous maneuvers that unnecessarily placed the entire neighborhood in mortal danger. A more measured, thoughtful and patient response likely would have achieved the same goal without the wholesale destruction of private property and the death of a puppy.

Gabrial Golden, 28, has a history of felony arrests dating back to 1996. He is on probation for an armed-robbery conviction. In July, he became the focus of a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department investigation in connection with the theft of automatic weapons and armor-piercing bullets.

Early on the morning of July 23, hours before MCSO rolled into Ahwatukee, Gabrial Golden was lured to a meeting with his probation officer, where he was arrested. He remains in custody.

According to press accounts, upon his arrest, Golden told MCSO that Kush was acting erratically and was armed. Kush, however, had no felony record, and his only legal ding was failing to appear in Tempe Municipal Court on a traffic warrant.

There were no other indications that Kush was about to unleash a rampage of cop-killer bullets on the neighborhood. In fact, Barker says she didn't even know Kush was at home when the SWAT team suddenly appeared in the front yard, complete with an armored personnel carrier.

The 22-year-old Barker says MCSO banged on her front door, announced they had a warrant and kicked in the door before she could respond.

"I was coming down the stairs and I heard them pound on the door," Barker says. "Literally two seconds later they kicked the door in mine and my daughter's face as I was trying to open it."

Barker says deputies yanked her and her daughter outside.

"They started yelling, `This is the sheriff's department! Eric, come out with your hands up!'" Barker says.

But Eric didn't come out. Initially, he holed up in the attic.

"I guess he just got scared," Barker says.

With Kush crouched in the attic, the SWAT team could have entered the house and made their way upstairs to confront him. Instead, they started launching tear gas grenades.

"Three to five minutes after they shot the tear gas cans into my bedroom, I saw flames coming out the back of the arcadia door," Barker says.

Within minutes, the upstairs of the house was engulfed in flames. Kush, Barker says, could hear Dre, his prized pit-bull puppy, yelping, and he jumped from the attic to try to save the dog.

As black smoke billowed from the house, Barker says, Kush frantically tried to get Dre to run outside, the puppy yelping "like a baby."

At one point, Dre ran from the master bedroom and bolted down the stairs toward the front door, where it came face to face with a SWAT team member. Instead of letting the dog run outside, the SWAT member reportedly launched a counterattack.

"They shot the dog in the face with a fire extinguisher when he tried to come out of the fire," says Trisha Golden, Gabrial's younger sister, who helped raise the dog and was outside the burning home calling for it to come out. She did not live at the house, but hung out there frequently, she says. She heard about the fire and came immediately. "He turned and ran back into the master bedroom and burned [to death]."

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty