BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s the first step in what will be a lengthy legal process for the husband and wife living at a Grider Street home — accused of dealing drugs and guns across Buffalo.
But for Erie County’s SWAT team, this moment is the culmination of months of work, weeks of surveillance, days of planning, and the efforts of multiple agencies — to bring down an operation that’s been poisoning the Queen City for at least the past year.
“The planning process is very in-depth, and you can plan for something from A to Z, have it completely scripted, and come game time, things change,” said Chris Schreiber, assistant team leader for Erie County’s SWAT Team. “The best-laid plans don’t survive the first shots.”
On a recent Friday morning, the county’s SWAT team, the FBI and Buffalo police gave News 4 exclusive access to show the work and precision required to bust what turned out to be a family affair, involving a husband, wife and the husband’s father.
“This is a couple of months of a very dedicated surveillance and really putting our work in.”
DJ Granville is Erie County’s chief of narcotics and intelligence. He’s been in law enforcement for more than 23 years, spending most of his time targeting street drugs.
“We’re a pretty active group, our narcotics team in particular, and we’re lucky enough to have good enough relationships with other law enforcement agencies,” Granville said.
Data provided by the city show their collaborative efforts appear to be working.
Shootings in the Queen City soared at the start of the pandemic, but have since dropped, especially in the past year. As of last week, 75 people had been the victim of gun violence this year; 20 of them died. Most, city officials say, are targeted or retaliation.
The day after six people were shot in less than 12 hours, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joe Gramaglia pointed the finger at repeat offenders.
“This is some of the common problems that we’re dealing with, with our gun crimes, is dealing with previously convicted felons who are in possession of handguns again,” said Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia, the day after six people were shot in 12 hours last month. “Obviously we have a handgun problem. We’re working very diligently on this.”
Raids like these couldn’t happen without sincere coordination among law enforcement agencies at the local, county, state and federal levels.
In this case, what was expected was exactly what was found. In a matter of minutes, two homes and a business were hit. The subjects of the investigation were exactly where they were supposed to be. No injuries to either side, no crossfire, no resisting.
“The whole point of surveillance is to not get made,” Granville said. “So we’ve been out there for weeks now, doing what we’re doing, with the hopes that tomorrow, when we execute these warrants everything’s where it’s supposed to be.”
Couron Virgil-Mack, his wife, Brianna, and Couron’s father, Desmond McCloud, were arrested on a variety of felony drug and gun charges.
This team’s success rate isn’t 100 percent — but it’s close.
“The planning process is very in-depth, and you can plan for something from A to Z, have it completely scripted, and come game time, things change. The best-laid plans don’t survive the first shots,” Schreiber said.
We won’t divulge specific investigative techniques. But a variety of arrests and confidential informants led to ground and air surveillance and undercover drug and gun buy to verify intelligence. Every detail is cross-checked, every step intentional and meticulous.
Here’s how it works.
In the days before, Erie County’s Air 1 helicopter circled the city to get a bird’s eye view of the home on Grider, the illegal business on Clinton and the apartment in the Langfield-Kenfield complex; part surveillance and part intelligence that gives the county SWAT team the ability to be intimately familiar with their target.
It’s early, 6 o’clock, the morning of the raid. SWAT group leaders are reviewing their plans, highlighting every step and every possible danger.
As the sun begins to rise, a quick run-through, to get familiar with commands, timing and roles.
Less than an hour later, all teams from each agency are gathering at the rendezvous point. This morning, it’s ECMC.
Then it’s on.
Couron Virgil-Mack is taken into custody at the house on Grider, multiple guns and five pounds of pot are collected.
Minutes later, Brianna is taken after her morning drop-off at school. A few minutes after that, Buffalo’s SWAT team is clearing the illegal business, which fronts as a legitimate bottle and can redemption center. More than 10 pounds of pot and edibles are confiscated.
By the time crews are inside the business, another SWAT team is busting through the front door of McCloud’s apartment, where more than 10 illegal guns are found in a safe and tucked into a basement ceiling.
“We have the ability to put the necessary time and training into these operations,” Schreiber said. “Weeks and weeks of intelligence gathering for literally seven minutes on target. But that seven minutes can go really sour really quickly.”
It didn’t this time. By any measure, this morning’s operation was a success.
“You talk about a coordinated, well-versed officers going in, executing search warrants. No one was injured. The bad guys were not injured, the good guys and our citizens were all protected,” said Erie County Sheriff John Garcia. “Kudos to them.”
Garcia is proud of the men and women in these specialized groups. But for the past three years, Garcia and others in law enforcement have been fighting a parallel battle: Brazen criminals and changes in Albany, in the form of New York’s new bail reform laws.
He says it puts his deputies in danger.
That tide is changing — incrementally. And it’s getting pushback from top democrats slowing change when law enforcement says it needs it most.
Meaning Garcia and Gramaglia and their teams on the streets are about to get a lot busier.
“We can’t go through another summer of violence,” Garcia said. “And we’re coming up to Memorial Day. We’re coming up to the hot months of summer when people are going to be out. We need to do something before the murders begin, the assaults, and we gotta knock on parents’ doors and tell them their son or daughter’s not coming home.”
Dave Greber is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here.