WOONSOCKET – For Neftali Melendez, Wednesday started with a bang, but it went downhill from there.
Melendez was startled awake about an hour before dawn by the sound of an explosive device blowing apart the door of his first-floor apartment at 196-202 Fourth Ave., police said.
Melendez, 25, now held at the ACI on drug charges, had been the target of an undercover narcotics operation for weeks, said Detective Lt. Eugene Jalette.
During the course of the probe, investigators learned Melendez had barricaded his apartment door with a pair of 2x4s – one strapped across the bottom of the door, another across the top – allegedly for the express purpose of keeping cops from getting in.
Assisted by agents of the state fire marshals office, a team of undercover and special-tactics officers from the Woonsocket police department gathered outside Melendez's apartment about 4:30 a.m., armed with a search warrant.
They didn't knock.
Instead, they detonated a small explosive device affixed to Melendez's apartment door, near the knob and lock area.
“It's the first time we've ever used an explosive device,” said Jalette. “It was quite an experience. It was louder than I expected it to be.”
The force of the blast left the door swinging on its hinges, allowing police to enter without resistance. Melendez and several other individuals in the house, including a small child, were abruptly awakened by the noise from the blast, but no one was injured, said Jalette.
“He jumped out of bed, but everything happened so fast I don't think he really had time to figure out what was going on,” said Jalette.
Melendez was arrested on one count of possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute, said Jalette. Following his arraignment in District Court, he was ordered held without bail pending a review hearing.
Melendez also faces a hearing for violating his probation on a prior conviction for possessing narcotics with the intent to distribute. He's been serving some 57 months' probation since 2009 after pleading no contest in Superior Court, according to judiciary's Web site.
Melendez wasn't alone in the apartment when police burst in. Jalette said another man, two adult females and one of their children – a girl about three years old – were in the apartment, along with a pit bull dog and several puppies. The people were overnight guests, said Jalette.
None of the other individuals was arrested, and with people left behind to care for the pets, the police did not seize the animals.
Under the circumstances, said Jalette, the raid went off quite smoothly. “Everyone stayed in their rooms” and the dog milled quietly about the apartment as officers searched the residence.
Jalette said 18 police officers participated in the raid, including 12 from the Special Reaction Team, a tactical squad trained for high-risk situations; three plainclothesmen from the Vice Unit, and three deputy state fire marshals.
The investigators seized a small amount of crack and related drug paraphernalia, said Jalette. In terms of quantity, it wasn't a major haul, said Jalette, but that's not unusual in such cases, where “timing is everything.”
Based on the surveillance police had conducted, investigators believe Melendez's apartment was a busy hub of street-level drug trafficking, Jalette said.
“We know he was active,” he said. “We know the traffic was there on an almost hourly basis.”