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The Bad Guys Weren’t Home : Federal raid on Vietnamese apartment turns out to be an embarrassing zero

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has admitted it made a mistake when it led Orange County law enforcement agencies early Wednesday in raiding the apartment of a Vietnamese immigrant family in Orange.

But so far no one has bothered to apologize. That may not be all that is necessary, should the story told by Henry Truong prove true; Truong, 28, is planning to sue for damages.

This is Truong’s account: Officers pounded on the door to the apartment at 6 a.m., when Truong, his wife, Thanh, and their two young daughters were asleep. Ten to twenty officers entered the house, their guns drawn. Truong was handcuffed, and he and his wife were made to wait outside as their children screamed inside. Thirty minutes later, the officers departed, apparently having finally realized that the gangsters they were after had moved away.

Truong said that as the officers left, one said, “Thanks for your cooperation--have a nice day.”

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Truong is a naturalized citizen who immigrated to the United States after escaping Vietnam by boat. He later earned a degree from USC in electrical engineering. He said he calmed his family after the incident and went to his job at a computer manufacturing company in Irvine. As the morning wore on, however, he became so agitated he couldn’t work. He called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in an effort to ask the agency to clean up his apartment, which he said officers had ransacked. He reached a bureau answering machine. His next call was to his lawyer.

The law enforcement agencies involved, which were coordinated by the bureau, aren’t saying much about the raid. But a search warrant left with Truong indicates they were looking for evidence of Asian gang activity, including rifles, shotguns and other firearms.

Any gangsters cleared out long ago. That means a huge and presumably well-planned raid was launched on a faulty premise, thereby wasting a considerable federal investment and poisoning the well in police-Vietnamese relations.

Anyone can make a mistake, but this kind of blunder only serves to reinforce the apprehension many Vietnamese immigrants have about cooperating with police. This troubling incident demonstrates the need for police work that is in closer touch with the community. The agencies have more explaining to do, and a formal apology is in order.

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