Saturday, June 18, 2011

SWAT team who shot Iraq war vet 70 times in his home cleared of any wrongdoing

Five officers involved in the shooting of a U.S. Marine who was killed when he was gunned down in his home near Tucson, Arizona have been cleared of any wrongdoing. Pima County Attorney's Office said the 'use of deadly force by the SWAT team members' in the raid on Jose Guerena's home was 'reasonable and justified'.

The father-of-two, who had served twice in Iraq, died on May 5 after the SWAT team descended on his home believing it was one of four houses associated with a drug smuggling operation.

The Attorney's office revealed that the 26-year-old had been previously arrested on five felony counts, but had never been convicted, as it said the shooting was justified.

'[The] assault rifle held by Mr Guerena held numerous rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber,' chief Criminal deputy county attorney David Berkman wrote in a letter to county sheriff Clarence Dupnik.

'The officers were mistaken in believing that Mr Guerena fired at them. However, when Mr Guerena raised the their direction, they needed to take immediate action to stop the deadly threat against them,' Mr Berkman wrote.

The SWAT team members who fired at Mr Guerena included two officers from the sheriff's office and officers from the Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita police departments.

Mr Berkman said that when the first officer fired, other officers mistook the flash from his gun as coming from Mr Guerena's rifle and so they responded with their own shots. Two officers said they heard him say, 'I've got something for you guys'.

'The SWAT team had been briefed on the nature of the operation and the fact that the occupants of the homes to be searched were potentially violent and could be armed,' wrote Mr Berkman.

The terrifying footage released by police shows the uniformed team pulling up outside Jose Guerena's home, sounding their sirens and banging on the door before kicking it in. The sound of bullets then rings out as they open fire shortly after entering the home.
A police investigation revealed that officers fired more than 70 shots.

Police allege that the former Marine was involved in drug smuggling, robbery and human smuggling. But a search of the home found nothing illegal. Officers found a handgun and body armour in the house.

The five SWAT team members remain on active duty. No criminal charges have been filed and no disciplinary action taken.

The Tucson SWAT team responsible for the May 5 house shooting defended its actions, saying the team was conducting a multi-house drug investigation based on a search warrant when they saw Mr Guerena aiming an assault rifle at them.

At first, the SWAT team had said Mr Guerena fired first, but then they retracted that statement, saying he had left the safety on.
SWAT team lawyer Mike Storie claimed weapons and body armour were found in the home, as well as a photo of Jesus Malverde, who Mr Storie called a 'patron saint drug runner'.

In a statement, the sheriff's office criticised those questioning the team, saying, 'It is unacceptable and irresponsible to couch those questions with implications of secrecy and a cover up, not to mention questioning the legality of actions that could not have been taken without the approval of an impartial judge'.

On the night of the raid, Ms Guerena said her husband was asleep, after having worked a night shift at the Asarco copper mine. She said she then saw the armed SWAT team outside her youngest son's bedroom window.

Ms Guerena alleges that she thought it was a criminal assault, since two members of her sister-in-law's family, Cynthia and Manny Orozco, had been killed last year in their Tucson home. Ms Guerena said she shouted for her husband, who told her to take young Joel and hide in a closet.

An ambulance reportedly arrived in a few minutes, but medical personnel were not allowed inside to see Mr Guerena for an hour and 14 minutes, the family's attorney, Chris Scileppi, told ABC News affiliate KGUN.

In contrast, it took responders only 12 minutes to address Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in Tucson in January, according to Mr Scileppi.

Mr Storie defended the SWAT team's actions, saying, 'They still don't know how many shooters are inside, how many guns are inside and they still have to assume that they will be ambushed if they walk in this house'.

Mr Scileppi accused officers of 'circling their wagons'. 'The pieces don't fit. I think it was poor planning, overreaction and now they're trying to CYA', Scileppi told ABC.

Mr Guerena served two tours of duty in Iraq, until he left the Marines in 2006. He had been working for a mining company in the Tucson area.

ABC interviewed his former commander, Sergeant Leo Verdugo, who told them he 'definitely pulled his weight'. 'I have a hard time grasping how something so tragic could happen', he told the network.

The Guerena's oldest boy, Jose, turns 6 Tuesday. Ms Ortiz told ABC, 'He went to school, came back and never saw his daddy again. He's asking, "Why did the police kill my daddy?"

'We were so worried when he was over there fighting terrorism, but he gets shot in his own home. The government killed one of their own', Ms Ortiz said. Mr Guerena was buried in his Marine dress blue uniform.

Original report here

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