Dog Day Afternoon

Justin Delfino looked out the window of his Ahwatukee home and couldn't believe what he was seeing.

It was shortly after noon on July 23 and several men dressed in black jeans and green shirts were getting out of an unmarked white Suburban, casually putting on flak jackets and helmets.

Soon the men were lingering in front of his neighbor's house in the upscale gated subdivision of quarter-million-dollar homes.

Delfino never would have guessed that he was witnessing the final preparations by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office SWAT team moments before it unleashed a barrage of tear gas grenades into his neighbor's home.

"They looked unprofessional. They were getting dressed on the scene. They weren't organized," Delfino, 22, says.

From his vantage point inside his home, Delfino couldn't see that deputies had rolled an armored personnel carrier into the neighbor's front yard as they prepared to storm the house.

Delfino could see no readily visible insignia on any of the men, so he figured the scene must be a prelude to a prank on the two men and a woman with a toddler who lived in the two-story stucco house across the street.

"I thought, these must be their friends and they are going to try and shoot paint balls at them," Delfino says.

But soon he knew that what he first thought was a gag must be about something deadly serious.

"I saw one of the guys was perched and aiming a gun at the window," he says. "All of a sudden, he fires off a tear gas round into the upstairs window.

"I immediately called 911. I didn't know what was going on."

Delfino says the men -- who he next thought must be members of a gang -- continued firing tear gas canisters through three upstairs windows in the front of the house. He saw others wearing flak jackets go around to the back of the house, where he heard them fire two more rounds at the upstairs windows of a back bedroom.

After a few minutes on the phone with a 911 operator, Delfino says, he was told that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office was serving a search warrant on the house and "not to worry."

That's when Delfino really got nervous. With good reason.

Delfino tells me he didn't know whether a huge gun battle was about to erupt 20 yards from his front door. No one from the sheriff's office had alerted him -- or any of his neighbors -- to evacuate.

Moments later, the situation deteriorated even further when the house erupted into flames. Now, the entire neighborhood of closely packed homes was threatened by the possibility of fire.

There wasn't a fire truck in sight.

Delfino's 'hood wouldn't have fared much worse if it had been a gang of street thugs blasting away at the house, rather than Sheriff Joe Arpaio's inept and bumbling SWAT team.

In less than 30 minutes, Arpaio's special forces unleashed an unprecedented wave of violence on this quiet community. Consider this:

• Just after the tear gas canisters were shot, a fire erupted and destroyed a $250,000 home plus all the contents inside. (The home's occupants believe the tear gas canisters caused the fire. Phoenix fire officials say the blaze was probably started by a lighted candle that was knocked onto a bed during the confusion.)

• The armored personnel carrier careened down the street and smashed into a parked car after its brakes failed.

• And in the ultimate display of cruelty, a SWAT team member drove a dog trying to flee the home back into the inferno, where it met an agonizing death.

Deputies then reportedly laughed as the dog's owners came unglued as it perished in the blaze.

"I was crying hysterically," Andrea Barker, one of the dog's owners, tells me. "I was so upset. They [deputies] were laughing at me."

Making fun of the 10-month-old pit bull puppy's death wasn't enough.

Arpaio's goons then left the dog's body to rot in the ashes for the next five days of 105-degree temperatures. A pall of death hung over the neighborhood. It was a putrid reminder of Arpaio's reckless use of force and callous disregard for the public's welfare. Not to mention the heinous treatment toward the terrified dog.

And what did Arpaio's crack SWAT team net from the raid that left a needless trail of death and destruction?

MCSO stormed the house believing there was a cache of stolen automatic weapons and armor-piercing ammunition. But MCSO got bushwhacked. Instead of finding weapons of mass destruction, they discovered an antique shotgun and a 9 mm pistol that appear to be legal weapons.