Fall River Herald News, MA
FALL RIVER -- Being incorrectly labeled a gang member is bad enough.
But spending six days in jail, having your home invaded by federal agents and facing potential eviction all because of an apparent case of mistaken gang identity is quite another story.
That’s just what happened to 34-year-old Fall River resident David Alvarez.
Alvarez was one of several alleged gang members arrested during a highly publicized April raid by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and Fall River vice officers.
A heavily attended press conference was held at the Fall River Police Department hours after the raids, at which time federal and local authorities announced the arrests and distributed photos of those who had been nabbed during the gang sweep.
Alvarez was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of an unregistered sawed-off shotgun. His photograph was also widely publicized by the media, resulting in an eviction notice being sent to his home.
An affidavit submitted to a federal court judge penned by ATF Agent Scott L. Heagney stated Alvarez sold a sawed-off shotgun to a cooperating witness last March.
Alvarez, however, insisted he has nothing to do with Fall River’s blossoming gang scene.
His assertions appear to be true, especially after a U.S. District Court judge last week swiftly dismissed all charges against Alvarez.
The dismissal, though, is not enough for Alvarez, who said he has been traumatized by the entire experience.
Alvarez said agents and officers raided the Sunset Hill apartment he shares with his spouse, Curtis Pouliot-Alvarez, around 5 a.m. with guns drawn.
"They stormed in here with shotguns pointed at all of us and told everyone to shut the [expletive] up," Alvarez said. "I was shocked and started crying. My mother was in the house, and they were being really violent and aggressive."
Alvarez and Pouliot-Alvarez also allege law enforcement officials mocked him and his spouse because they are homosexual.
"They called us faggots, and they laughed at us when we told them we sleep in the bedroom together," Pouliot-Alvarez said.
Alvarez was quickly shuttled to Boston for an initial appearance before a judge and was held in a Plymouth County jail for six days before finally being released.
Alvarez said his six days in prison were "pure hell."
"Why should I have to continue to be in fear of cops? They should be here to protect me, not to lock me up for things I had nothing to do with," he said.
"I’m constantly waiting for them to knock on my door again and treat me like an animal."
Fall River Police Lt. Wayne Furtado said he had no information about the Alvarez case, and could not comment on it. He also said the vice unit’s commander, Lt. Daniel Racine, was unavailable for comment this past week.
ATF spokesman James McNally said he is aware Alavarez’s case had been quickly dismissed, but said he could not comment on a pending investigation at this time.
Neither department admitted Alavrez’s arrest and detention was a mistake.
"I really can’t say anything about Mr. Alavrez’s case," McNally said. "He might still have been a player in this. His particular charges may have been dropped, but the investigation proceeds."
Several calls and e-mails to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting all the cases of those rounded up during the April "gang raid," were not returned this week.
Alvarez said he is going public with his torment in an effort to clear his name. He said he has never been a gang member, and says he doesn’t even know what a sawed-off shotgun looks like.
"I want them to find the person who really sold those guns, and do justice," Alvarez said. "But I need justice, too. The people in charge threw my name through the mud and made it very public. But when they realize they made a mistake, there is no press conference for that.
"I’m a good tenant, and have lived here for six years. I go to church. I like people and they like me. I am not a gang member!"
The entire ordeal has taken its toll on Alvarez, who was already dealing with clinical depression.
But his arrest, imprisonment and "ruined reputation" have all resulted in more medical issues for Alvarez.
He and his spouse explained Alvarez now suffers from regular panic attacks and is taking medications to control his anxiety.
Pouliot-Alvarez claimed law enforcement officials "did a horrible job in the investigation," and alleged they made the arrests in a hurried manner to show they were taking the city’s gang problems seriously.
"We are not ignorant. We know there are gang members and drug dealers living here (in Sunset Hill and across the city), but they never even traced phone numbers that the cooperating witness called, and they never found out who leased the apartment on Eagle Street where this gun sale supposedly happened," Pouliot-Alvarez said. "They’re just running around trying to make a lot of arrests to show they are doing something."
Due to his sudden arrest, the city’s Housing Authority has begun eviction proceedings and a Housing Court hearing has been scheduled to occur June 8.
Alvarez said he is hopeful the dismissal of his criminal charges will prove to the Housing Court he does not deserve to be evicted.
"They got the wrong guy and they know it," Alvarez said. "I want to clear my name. I want people to know I have been violated.
"They are destroying my life for something I did not do."
Once these goons have invaded your home you will never feel safe again. I know I don't.