Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SWAT Team Fires 71 Shots

The Arizona Daily Star describes an unpleasant event in Tucson:

The Pima County Regional SWAT team fired 71 shots in seven seconds at a Tucson man they say pointed a gun at officers serving a search warrant at his home.
Jose Guerena, 26, a former Marine who served in Iraq twice, was holding an AR-15 rifle when he was killed, but he never fired a shot, the Sheriff's Department said Monday after initially saying he had fired on officers during last week's raid.
Six days after Guerena was shot, few details about the investigation that brought the SWAT team to the southwest-side home Guerena shared with his wife and their two young sons are known. Guerena's role in the narcotics investigation is unclear and deputies would not comment on what was seized from his home.
Three other homes within a quarter of a mile from Guerena's house, were served search warrants related to the investigation that morning. The addresses and the names of people who live in the other homes have not been made public.
Vanessa Guerena says she heard noise outside their home about 9 a.m. Thursday and woke her husband who had just gone to bed after working a 12-hour shift at the Asarco Mine, she said. There were no sirens or shouts of "police," she said.
Guerena told his wife and son to hide inside a closet and he grabbed the AR-15 rifle, his wife said.
The department says SWAT members were clear when identifying themselves while entering the home.
"Tucson is notorious for home invasions and we didn't want to look like that," said Lt. Michael O'Connor of the Pima County Sheriff's Department. "We went lights and sirens and we absolutely did not do a 'no-knock' warrant."
When five SWAT members broke through the front door Guerena was crouched down pointing the gun at them, said O'Connor.
"The suspect said, 'I've got something for you,' when he saw them," O'Connor said. Guerena's wife denied he said that.
Deputies began shooting.
A deputy's bullet struck the side of the doorway, causing chips of wood to fall on his shield. That prompted some members of the team to think the deputy had been shot, O'Connor said.
The Sheriff's Department put in a call to Drexel Heights fire at 9:43 a.m. requesting assistance with a shooting. But crews were told to hold off.
Guerena was dead by the time they were allowed in the house, fire officials said.
Vanessa Guerena vividly remembers seeing her wounded husband.
"When I came out the officers dragged me through the kitchen and took me outside, and that's when I saw him laying there gasping for air," Vanessa Guerena said. "I kept begging the officers to call an ambulance that maybe he could make it and that my baby was still inside."
The little boy soon after walked out of the closet on his own. SWAT members took him outside to be with his mother.
"I never imagined I would lose him like that, he was badly injured but I never thought he could be killed by police after he served his country," Vanessa Guerena said.
The family's 5-year-old son was at school that morning and deputies say they thought Guerena's wife and his other child would also be gone when they entered the home.
Guerena says there were no drugs in their house.
Deputies said they seized a "large sum of money from another house" that morning. But they refused to say from which of the homes searched that morning they found narcotics, drug ledgers or drug paraphernalia. Court documents showing what was being sought and was found have not been made public. A computer check on Guerena revealed a couple of traffic tickets and no criminal history.
Guerena was a Tucson native and Flowing Wells High School graduate. He joined the U.S. Marines in 2002. He served two tours in Iraq in 2003 and 2005 as part of the Yuma-based MWSS-173 under direct supervision of Master Sgt. Leo Verdugo.
Verdugo was with Guerena's family Tuesday afternoon. He gave them a Marine Corps jacket and gloves to use at Guerena's burial.
"He was an excellent Marine, with a bright future ahead of him," Verdugo said.
"We had just bought a home and he was working graveyard shifts and overtime just to help pay the bills, we were just starting to make this house our home," Vanessa Guerena said.
"I know I can't have him back but I want justice. I want explanations for what happened," she said.

What does this all mean? Assuming that Guerena was indeed the object of the SWAT team operation, was this the best possible method of effecting his arrest? Even the most cursory investigation would have revealed that he was working at Asarco. Wouldn't it have been easier and safer to simply have stopped his car during his commute? Or arrest him as he left the mine? There's no difference now between the tactics of American law enforcement and that of the Gestapo or the NKVD. The police can arrive at any hour, for unknown reasons, without a warrant, murder someone in his own house, and keep the details of the event secret. This is terror by any definition.

Law enforcement personnel have managed to elevate themselves to a value far above the population that they are meant to protect. Their bodies are inviolate. An on-duty death requires national mourning. Buildings are named after them. Yet, should they kill an innocent citizen, do they then annually place flowers on the grave? Are memorial funds established by the police to educate their children? Of course not.

On May 19, the Arizona Daily Star adds this:

Unanswered SWAT raid questions demand answers - from Dupnik

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik answered almost nothing Wednesday in his "comment" on the SWAT-team shooting death of Jose Guerena.
To start with, Dupnik didn't actually step forward to explain anything about the shooting of Guerena, who was inside his home when officers arrived to serve a search warrant in a drug investigation.
Instead, Dupnik had a public information officer issue a press release that offered little insight.
It starts this way: "As a result of the need for information surrounding the shooting of Jose Guerena by members of the Pima Regional SWAT Team, the public has received misinformation and emotionally charged speculation."
And who gave the public that bad information? That would be Dupnik's department. At least be accountable enough to write a clear sentence that says the Sheriff's Department is to blame for the wrong information that now has citizens - in blogs, online comment boards and letters to the editor - engaging in "emotionally charged speculation." Not to mention asking legitimate questions.
We asked several yesterday in this space, and today we have more.
• The department originally said Guerena, a former Marine, fired on SWAT officers when they went to his house on May 5. It subsequently said he pointed an AR-15 rifle at them but had the safety on. SWAT team members fired 71 times and hit him 60.
How did the sheriff get that wrong?
• Why refuse to say what, if anything, drug-related was found in his house? If Guerena did deal drugs, his fellow criminals know the authorities might be on their trail. So what about this investigation is being protected by refusing to say what might have been found?
• Authorities said they expected Guerena to be home alone when they served the search warrant. Did they also know that he'd been a Marine and therefore was skilled in the use of a firearm and might well have one in his home?
Did they know that he had a job at the Asarco mine? If so, wouldn't it have been safer to serve the search warrant when they knew he would be at work? As it turned out, his wife said he was sleeping after working the graveyard shift when the SWAT team arrived at about 9:30 a.m.
• A sheriff's spokesman said earlier, before the department clammed up, that they expected Guerena's wife to be off to school with their two children. As it turned out, she and a 4-year-old son were home. Were authorities conducting surveillance on the house in the hours before the raid so they would know for certain who had come and gone that morning? It's fortunate that Mrs. Guerena and her child weren't also shot.
• Most of all, why hasn't the Sheriff's Department said that an outside law-enforcement agency will review its conduct?
Instead, Wednesday's press release said that the criminal investigation and one by the County Attorney's Office will precede "any administrative review of the actions of the officers involved in the shooting. By mutual agreement, that administrative review will include officials from the Pima County Sheriff's Department, the Marana Police Department, the Oro Valley Police Department and the Sahuarita Police Department. Each of these agencies had officers involved in the shooting as members of the Pima Regional SWAT Team."
Those agencies can review all they want, but there must be one done by an agency that wasn't involved.
We understand that SWAT team members risk their lives to go after dangerous bad guys. Perhaps Jose Guerena was one of them. If so, the Sheriff's Department should lay out its allegations. What we know now is that the 26-year-old former Marine, who served two tours in Iraq, had no criminal record.
We also know that police have tremendous power - even to enter a private home. Because law-enforcement has that awesome authority, citizens have the right to question its decision-making and actions.
Finally, we point out that Dupnik's refusal to answer questions himself in this case stands in stark contrast to his behavior after the Jan. 8 Tucson shootings. Step out, Mr. Dupnik, and explain what happened and why.
Arizona Daily Star

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