No-Knock Nightmare: Officer lies after botched raid

Two of the officers who mistook renters for squatters were on the payroll of the apartment complex
A look at a case where an off-duty, hired officer used police powers at the wrong house, and lied to cover the mistake. Reported and edited by Brendan Keefe.
Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 1:12 PM CDT
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(InvestigateTV/Atlanta News First) - Mario Melgar was sleeping when he first heard officers yelling at him inside his own apartment.

“Roswell Police! If you’re inside, make yourself known!” an officer commanded from behind a ballistic shield, pointing his gun down the hallway toward Melgar’s bedroom, according to police body-worn camera recordings obtained by InvestigateTV.

Unsure if he was dreaming, Melgar woke up and walked to the bathroom.

“Roswell police! Come to the sound of my voice! Just heard a door close,” said the officer in the doorway. A back-up officer said he heard a door close, too.

Melgar was commanded in English and Spanish to put his hands up and walk toward the gun and flashlight that were pointed toward his face.

“I was sleeping peacefully and I don’t know what happened, really,” Melgar said, in Spanish, in an interview with InvestigateTV. “I imagined it was a mix-up or something, because I just came out and was handcuffed without [officers] giving me an explanation or anything,” the tenant added.

Looking for squatters

The officers with the Special Investigations Section of the Roswell Police Department were clearing what they believed to be vacant apartments. A broken window covered with plywood made them suspect Melgar’s apartment was occupied by squatters.

But they immediately had their doubts after the officer with the ballistic shield entered Melgar’s apartment.

“Someone’s got a TV, looks like someone’s living in here,” said the first officer as he drew his gun. Another officer asked, “This is 100 percent supposed to be vacant?”

Detective Charles Craig responded he was “about 90 percent sure.”

They still ordered Melgar out of his own home at gunpoint and handcuffed his wrists late at night on June 22, 2022.

The list

Craig had a list of apartments for the entire complex known as the rent roll. It showed which units were supposed to be empty, and which were fully-paid on rent.

Melgar’s apartment was listed as fully paid at $1,374 a month — but the rent roll was in the detective’s car while they were handcuffing Melgar at his apartment door.

After other officers raised concerns that the apartment appeared to be occupied, the detective went to his car and checked the list. He checked it again while bringing it back to the apartment and let several minutes pass before releasing Melgar and his roommate who had come home during the raid.

How did Craig get a rent roll for the entire complex?

“I got it from the property manager,” he told a Roswell Police internal affairs investigator.

The extra job

Craig and the officer with the ballistic shield and gun inside Melgar’s apartment both worked off-duty jobs at the same apartment complex, according to records obtained by InvestigateTV from Roswell Police through the Georgia Open Records Act.

Roswell police could not tell us how many hours each officer worked or how much they were paid by the apartments.

The police department approves each off duty employer, but considers the arrangement a private matter. Even though officers wear a Roswell police uniform, city badge and taxpayer-funded gun — and sometimes drive department vehicles — the city does not track officers’ off duty hours or pay.

Major Charles Greco, the head of internal affairs, asked Craig in a recorded interview: “Were these searches, or were these patrols of vacant apartments, requested by property managers?”

“Not at that time,” Craig replied.

But another officer involved in the mistaken apartment raid wrote in his report: “The management of the complex had requested Craig periodically check [the vacant apartments].”

The officer checked vacant apartments on duty at the same location where he received an off-duty paycheck.

Resigned in lieu of termination

Craig resigned in lieu of termination, according to state records. Investigators determined he lied to his fellow officers, according to the internal affairs report, and statements the internal affairs investigator made on a body-worn camera recording.

“Is there a reason why you held the phone up to your ear for several minutes pretending to be on the phone with the leasing manager?” Greco asked. Craig responded: “Because I was embarrassed about what I f****d up.”

Greco also asked him, “How long after that time when you realized that this apartment wasn’t on the list of vacant apartments did you finally release the person who was in handcuffs?”

“Too long. Ten, 15 minutes, approximately. I don’t know off the top of my head,” Craig responded.

The investigator pressed him further: “During that 10 to 15 minutes, if you had to estimate, how many more times do you think you lied to try to save face during that interaction with the officers and the person who was handcuffed?”

“Multitude, on the same thing, to try to save face and try to make it go away,” Craig said.

The apology

In a second police body camera recording, Greco went to the apartment to personally apologize to Melgar and his roommate. He was joined by a bi-lingual officer who translated the department’s apology.

“We determined the officer lied, and we told him that he would be fired,” Greco said, referring to Craig.

“It was his error, and we’re sorry,” Greco added.

Craig “was told that he was going to be terminated, and he quit before he was fired,” the head of internal affairs told the roommate through the translator.

Melgar said he wants more than an apology — he wants change.

“I would like them to change so that they’re more careful, or that they check first,” he said. “So that these things don’t happen.”

InvestigateTV reached out to Craig and the apartment complex leasing office multiple times. Neither responded.

We also asked the Roswell Police Department if officials or the second officer who worked for the apartments wanted to sit for an interview. They declined.

The department issued the following statement:

“The Roswell Police Department places great importance on the trust of our community, and takes allegations of police misconduct very seriously. We are committed to ensuring that allegations of police misconduct are thoroughly investigated, and appropriate action is taken.

The allegations against Detective Craig came to light during an internal procedural review consistent with Roswell Police Department policy. Once made aware, Chief Conroy ordered an internal affairs investigation, and placed Detective Craig on administrative leave. During the investigation, Detective Craig resigned in lieu of termination. The Roswell Police Department promptly reported this resignation to the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST).”