Jose Guerena shooting
|Killing of Jose Guerena|
|Date||May 5, 2011
9:30 am (MST)
|Perpetrators||Pima County SWAT officers|
|Jose Manuel Guerena Ortiz|
November 23, 1984|
|Died||May 5, 2011
Cause of death
|May 5, 2011|
Jose Guerena was a U.S. Marine veteran who served in the Iraq War and was killed in his Tucson, Arizona home, on May 5, 2011, by officers of the Pima County SWAT team, while they were executing a warrant to search his home in relation to an ongoing investigation into drug smuggling. In September 2013, the four police agencies involved agreed to pay Guerena's family $3.4 million as a settlement, without admitting wrongdoing in their killing of Guerena.
Reasons for search
The County police initially said the raid was a search for marijuana. After the attack, Pima County released documents suggesting Guerena's brother, Alejandro, was engaged in criminal activity. Days later, they said it was part of an investigation into a series of home invasions. Another home search that same morning revealed marijuana, $94,000, and several weapons. According to police reports, Alejandro Guerena pulled up to the house in a pick-up truck while the raid was going on, and police found a pistol in his truck, which might have led to a heavier firearm presence when raiding Jose's home.
Asleep after returning from a 12-hour overnight shift at the ASARCO Mission mine, Guerena was awakened about 9:30 am by his wife who heard noises outside their house, later identified as flash/bang grenades deployed by police in the back yard as a diversion. He instructed his wife and 4-year-old son to hide inside a closet while he grabbed his AR-15 rifle and crouched down preparing to defend himself from the unidentified people breaking and entering into his home. The Sheriff's Department initially claimed that Guerena had fired on officers; at least three of the SWAT members including the team commander reported in their post-operation debriefings that they had observed muzzle flashes aimed at them from inside the house. After an examination of the rifle Guerena allegedly pointed at the officers however, it was determined that the rifle had not been fired; the safety was still engaged. Other officers claimed they saw splinters from the doorjamb being hit by bullets; the shots that caused this were determined to come from other members of the SWAT team themselves. "There were five officers at the door beginning to make entry into this home, when they engaged this individual that they believed was actually firing at them." Other versions of this story claim that officers started shooting after Guerena pointed the gun at them, though under questioning they were initially unsure whether he had actually moved to target them. A video of the raid shows roughly 38 seconds expired from the time the police briefly sounded a siren upon pulling into Guerena's driveway until they shot him. At this point the five person team fired at least 71 rounds at Guerena in less than seven seconds, who died after being hit 22 times.
Guerena's wife called 911 to request medical assistance for her husband shortly after the shooting. Paramedics, however, were instructed to hold back. Guerena was denied attention, for about one hour, until the team declared the "area secured". Ambulance crews were then notified they were no longer needed, one hour and fourteen minutes after Guerena's wife's call to 911. An official autopsy report was released on 6 June. It confirmed that Guerena had been shot 22 times, including one grazing shot to the head. No drugs were found in his system. The medical examiner expressed doubts that medics could have saved Guerena, even if they had reached him quickly. The report also notes that the body showed "no evidence of medical intervention".
The former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Anthony Schiessl was asked to review a video from the raid. Schiessl has seven years of experience as an Army Combat Engineer, including three deployments to Iraq. Schiessl said the raid was "amateur, undisciplined, unrehearsed and ineffective." He was then asked if Guerena could have known they were cops raiding the house, he replied "Not plausible at all. The short siren burst could have been a police car passing. The flash bang grenades being used next door would have added to the confusion. When looking out a sunlit doorway from a dark hallway, it is difficult to see anything but a silhouette. Add in several people yelling, and it would be extremely difficult to comprehend what is happening if you're woken from sleep."
Officers did not find any evidence related to drug trafficking at Guerena's residence. Police did report that they took one AR-15, one .38 handgun, body armor, and a US Border Patrol cap from the Guerena house after killing him. All these items are legal to own. Three other houses and a storage unit rented by his relatives were searched as part of the same investigation, in which police discovered weapons, a bag of marijuana, a stolen vehicle, and accounting ledgers allegedly related to drug trafficking operations.
A computer search revealed Guerena had no history of criminal convictions. Guerena had been arrested in January 2009 after being involved in a traffic stop with two other individuals where a gun and a small amount of marijuana were found, but was not charged. In the affidavit filed to support the search warrant, Pima Detective Alex Tisch had claimed that Guerena had "five felony arrests involving drugs" but no convictions.
Guerena's widow states that she had no knowledge that the man she saw pointing a gun at her through the window was a police officer, and thought that he was part of a home invasion group. She has stated that two members of her sister-in-law's family were killed previously in a home invasion. As of May 2011, that case, in which Cynthia and Manny Orozco were killed and their 2-year-old daughter seriously injured, remains unsolved.
Upon request of Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, a judge sealed the search warrants as well as the documents showing what items were seized from the home. Dupnik stated this was to protect the identity of a confidential informant and criticized the press for wanting to know the details of the case. On June 2, 2011 the Pima County Superior Court released the warrants and other information related to the raid, but redacted some material to protect the identity of a confidential informant.
Attorney Michael Storie, the Pima County Deputy Sheriff's Association's in-house counsel represented the officers involved in a number of press conferences defending their actions. On June 13, the Pima County Attorney's Office, under County Attorney Barbara LaWall, released the results of their review of the shooting, concluding that "under the circumstances, and based upon our review of all the available evidence, we have concluded that the use of deadly forces by the SWAT Team members was reasonable and justified under the law. Accordingly, the Pima County Attorney's Office finds no basis to prosecute."
Pima County Republican Party chairman Brian Miller questioned the killing of Guerena, and the SWAT policies that led to it, as did former Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack, who once served with Dupnik. The Pima County GOP, was upset that Brian Miller rushed to criticize the shooting and in light of the facts that were later revealed to clear the officers of wrongdoing, removed Brian Miller from his chairmanship. Ten months after the raids and the killing, on March 2, 2012, Guerena's two brothers Alejandro Guerena, 28, and Gerardo Guerena, 24; along with Alejandro's wife, Pauline Guerena, his sister-in-law, Denise Ruiz, and his father-in-law, Jose Celaya were indicted, and it was alleged that they imported and sold at least $4.9 million worth of marijuana between 2005 and the time of the fatal raid. The Guerena brothers have outstanding warrants for their arrest. Ruiz and Pauline Guerena were released from jail to the county's Pretrial Services agency, and Celaya posted a $50,000 bond.
On August 12, 2011 it was announced that the family of Jose Guerena filed an intention to sue Pima County Sheriff Dupnik, and all the officers who shot Guerena or were part of the raid, offering to settle for $20 million. The lawsuit cites that the officers acted with negligence when they failed to announce themselves and put Guerena's wife and son in danger, and willingly deprived Guerena of medical attention after he was shot, leading to his death, and violated his civil rights. Christopher Scileppi, a Tucson attorney, was hired to represent the family. Scileppi says the lawsuit is meant to hold those accountable for Guerena's death and send a message to officers who have unlawfully killed citizens, as well as to clear Jose Guerena's name. The lawyer for the officers, however, said that the lawsuit is only to cause more "hysteria" and the amount is excessive since the officers had already been cleared of wrongdoing.
Initially the parties involved in killing Guerena did not settle, the family proceeded to file a lawsuit. The suit named Pima County, Marana, Sahuarita, Oro Valley, and all SWAT operators involved in the killing. The suit covers claims of negligence in the procurement of the search warrant, in the shooting, and in the failure to provide medical attention.
In September 2013, Pima County, the towns of Sahuarita, Marana, and Oro Valley, approved a combined settlement of $3.4 million to Guerena's widow, with Pima County contributing $2.35 million, Sahuarita, $260,000, Marana, $720,000, and Oro Valley, $100,000. The settlements required approval from each jurisdictions board, with only one board member from Pima county dissenting. Pima County officials claim that the settlement does not imply wrongdoing.
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