via Delaware Online:
MIDDLETOWN — Steve Tuppeny was in the garage of his Middletown home having a smoke at 6:15 a.m., his wife and daughter asleep inside, when the Wilmington SWAT officers made their move.
Dressed in black, several officers rushed Tuppeny, ordered him to lie face down on the ground and handcuffed him. Other SWAT officers smashed the storm door in the front of the Tuppenys’ two-story colonial-style home, then used a battering ram to break through the red front door.
Jennifer Tuppeny, a teacher at Marbrook Elementary School near Prices Corner, said she was asleep upstairs when officers threw open the door to her darkened bedroom and ordered her at gunpoint to get up.
The couple’s 8-year-old daughter was awakened out of a “dead sleep” by “men dressed in black with guns shining flashlights in her face,” Jennifer Tuppeny said.
Police carried out the early morning raid in search of a man whom they called a “person of interest” in a homicide. The man, in a Sept. 19 court appearance, had said he lived at the Tuppenys’ address in the 100 block of Willow Grove Mill Drive. Police had a search warrant authorizing them to obtain a DNA sample.
The man was located later Thursday in Smyrna, was given a DNA swab and released, said Wilmington police spokesman Officer Mark Ivey. Police did not release his name, and Ivey said late Thursday afternoon that the man is neither a defendant nor a suspect.
“The person of interest had resided at the residence and provided court officials with this address within the last month indicating he currently lived there,” Ivey said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “In compliance with standard operating procedure, officers verified that the person of interest was no longer residing at the home and did not search the residence any further.”
By that time, Steve Tuppeny said, his family had been terrorized.
“I’m lying on the garage floor at gunpoint and they are invading my home terrorizing my family,” Tuppeny said. “This is America. We’re innocent people here.”
Jennifer Tuppeny said her family has lived in the home for four years. They purchased it from the father of the man who was the target of Thursday morning’s raid.
“I’m just so upset, and my daughter is traumatized,” she said. “All I want from police is an apology, and all my daughter wants is for the police officers to apologize.”
Ivey said the officers on the scene apologized to the Tuppenys; the Tuppenys disputed that, saying none of the officers offered an apology. They said police supervisor Sgt. George Pigford, who arrived at the scene following the raid, gave the Tuppenys written instruction to call Wilmington’s Risk Management Office to collect compensation for damage to their home.
By Thursday afternoon, Steve Tuppeny, a line chef and general contractor, had cleaned up the broken glass at his front door – the glass left indentations in his hardwood floor – and vacuumed up the mud tracked into the house by police. A pile of glass shards remained on his front stoop.
The couple was still surveying the damage when Wilmington Police Inspector Sean Finerty and a civilian counselor arrived at the home to explain what had happened and offer counseling for their daughter. The conversation ended when the Tuppenys asked them to leave.
Wilmington Police Chief Michael Szczerba issued a statement later Thursday afternoon. “On behalf of the Wilmington Department of Police, I apologize to the family for this unfortunate situation,” he said.
He also noted in the statement that last year, the city’s Crisis Management Tactical Team executed 110 search warrants with “no serious injuries to any officers, suspects or innocent citizens.”
The Tuppenys reported the incident to Middletown police, who said they were unaware that Wilmington police were conducting an operation within their jurisdiction. Middletown Police Chief Henry Tobin said one of his officers came upon some Wilmington officers after a raid, and they indicated that Middletown’s communication center had been notified.
“It’s a routine practice that the respective jurisdiction gets notified,” Tobin said. “Something broke down on this one. If there was a breakdown, I want to know where. If our officers happened upon it, they might have been put in jeopardy.”