BARSTOW - It was around 5 a.m. and Charles Sherman was asleep in his small one-room apartment. Suddenly, he heard a crash and a small grenade-like device fell from the broken window onto his bed below.

"All of the sudden, it explodes," Sherman said.

Inside his house on Third Street, burn holes and char marks now stain his mattress. His pillow is burnt. His body looks much the same. Second- and third-degree burns cover much of his stomach and groin area. Burns took the skin off of his left forearm. The hairs on the left side of his goatee are shorter, also burned. He can hardly walk. Friends have to help him stand.

Sherman, 42, claims he was attacked in his sleep - but not by robbers or thugs. In the early morning hours of Jan. 16, a SWAT team of deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department broke a window right above Sherman's bed and hurled a flash bang diversion device into his house. The SWAT team hoped to find evidence relating to recent attempted murder on Pallesi Street under investigation by the Barstow Police Department.

Now suffering from burns, Sherman said he intends file formal complaints and sue over the injuries. He has not done so, he said, because the burns have limited his ability to walk and move around.

"Of course I'm going to sue," he said. "I'm not going to play with this."

The flash bang device, much like a grenade, makes a loud noise and emits a bright flash to distract people while officers enter a residence, Lt. Albert Ramirez of the Barstow Police Department said.

"It's a diversion," Ramirez said. "We want to distract their mind and eyes to something other than us."

After the device went off, Sherman said he was dragged out onto his front porch, kicked and beaten by the SWAT team while still burning. He said they performed a rectal search for drugs, stepped on his neck and called him a "n-----" repeatedly. Neighbors Jeff and Melissa Nearen, who have known Sherman for about six months, heard the commotion and came out of their house. Jeff Nearen said he thought it was unnecessary to search the house of man who is on disability and blind in one eye.

"They weren't acting like professional policemen," Jeff Nearen said. "They were acting like thugs."

Ramirez said the Barstow police department asked the sheriff's department to assist them that morning in serving four search warrants to homes on the 300 block of Third Street. The police were hoping to find evidence related to a recent attempted murder on nearby Pallesi Street but instead arrested five for suspicion of drug possession. Sherman was not one of them.
They took precautions, Ramirez said, in case inhabitants of any of the homes had guns. New evidence obtained through an investigation and from a credible citizen informant led the department to believe that Sherman might have guns in the residence.

"We have to react differently based on the information we have," Ramirez said.

San Bernardino County court records show that Sherman does not have a recent criminal past in the county. However, according to Ramirez, Sherman was convicted of felony counts of possession of drugs with intent to sell in Pomona and robbery with a weapon. Sherman does not remember the robbery charge but said he served his time for the possession and got off of parole two or three years ago. He has lived in Barstow for about two years, he said, and has stayed out of trouble since then.

Ramirez said because of Sherman's criminal past, the department decided to take precautions when serving the search warrant.

"If somebody hasn't been arrested in a long time, it does not mean that that person cannot be dangerous," Ramirez said.

Sherman disagrees. He said he does not own a gun and has no drug cases or recent parole violations.

"All they doing is trying to go back in on my history," he said. "In two to three years, my life has changed."

Despite the change Sherman claims, the police department intends on charging Sherman with being an ex-felon in possession of ammunition, a felony, Ramirez said, and has not yet due to Sherman's injuries. The ammunition was found during a search of Sherman's house four or five days before the Jan. 16 warrant. Sherman claims he does not own a gun he found the ammunition while cleaning a house for a family that had just moved to Texas. He did not know the family, he said, and does not know who the bullets belong to.

"I thought it was better off for me to take them then to leave them there," he said. "I don't play with guns."

The Barstow Police Department coordinated the searches for two of their Special Response Teams, Ramirez said, and let the sheriff's SWAT teams direct their involvement. He said each department handles tactical operations in a different manner depending on the training they have had. The police department does use flash bang devices, Ramirez said, but was not involved with the sheriff's SWAT team's operation.

The sheriff's department would not release much information regarding the incident. Cindy Beavers, a spokeswoman for the department, said that a SWAT commander did confirm that there was an injury during their operation and was not aware of any complaint or legal action taken against the department.

"If this man claims that something happened to, then he deserves to have that investigated," Beavers said.

She said the department could not release information about why the SWAT team took the measures they did in case an investigation into the incident develops.

Contact the writer: (760) 256-4121 or aaron_aupperlee@link.freedom.com