Archive for June, 2011

Arizona veteran shot and killed in his own home by SWAT team

June 4, 2011

SHATTERED FAMILY — A portrait of the family of Jose and Vanessa Guerena.  Vanessa and the couple’s youngest son were present when Mr. Guerena was shot to death in the family home.

On May 5, 2011, the Associated Press reported that a 26-year-old man from South Tucson, Arizona, was fatally shot by a Pima County SWAT team while serving a search warrant at the man’s home.  The press reported:

Sheriff’s officials say 26-year-old Jose Guerena was pronounced dead at the scene of Thursday morning’s brief shootout.  They said Guerena’s wife and 4-year-old son were in the home at the time of the shooting and escaped injury.  Deputy Jason Ogan says Guerena shot at SWAT team members with an AR-15 assault rifle before authorities returned fire.

On May 19, 2011, the Associated Press reported:

The man who was fatally shot by Pima County SWAT officers earlier this monthly was allegedly linked to a home-invasion crew.  That words comes from the attorney representing the officers.  Michael Storie says authorities found rifles, hand guns, body armor and a portion of a law enforcement uniform from inside Jose Guerena’s house.

The article further reported: “A lawyer for the Guerena family says nothing seized from the victim’s home was illegal.”

On May 27, 2011, Sean Holstege of The Arizona Republic reported that documents released in the case disclosed “that Pima County sheriff’s deputies thought they were storming the Tucson home of a dangerous drug trafficker.”  However, to date there is evidence that Mr. Guerena was involved in any criminal activity.

On the morning that Mr. Guerena was killed, the SWAT team arrived in an armored personnel carrier with numerous squad cars.  Members of the SWAT team broke down the door and saw Mr. Guerena holding a rifle.  Mr. Guerena was killed when he was struck by a flurry of bullets.  Mr. Guerena was hit 22 times, according to the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office.  (A police investigation showed that officers fired more than 70 shots.)

The sheriff’s office initially reported that Mr. Guerena shot at the invading SWAT team members.  Officer Hector Iglecias told detectives that he fired nine or ten rounds at Mr. Guerena after he saw muzzle flashes from Mr. Guerena’s rifle.  Deputy Christopher Garcia told investigators that he heard Mr. Guerena yell something as he came toward him with a rifle.  “I continued firing at the suspect where I saw him, directly in front of me holding the rifle,” Deputy Garcia said.  Officer Jake Shumate said Mr. Guerena “raise the rifle and pointed it towards us and then fired multiple shots.”  However, the sheriff’s office later issued a statement disclosing that the rifle Mr. Guerena was holding had its safety on and Mr. Guerena did not fire his rifle.

A video was released showing the armored car arriving at Mr. Guerena’s residence and breaking into the house.  Repeated gunfire can be heard on the audio track of the video, which is included in an article about Mr. Guerena’s death at a website titled Pro Libertate:

Mr. Guerena was a former Marine (2002-06) who served two tours of duty in Iraq.  Mr. Guerena worked the graveyard shift at an Asarco copper mine.  He had no record of violent crime.  He was arrested in 2009 for drug possession but prosecutors declined to charge him.  His older brother, Alejandro Guerena, was being investigating by police for alleged drug trafficking.

An article by Sean Holstege and Robert Angien of The Arizona Republic described what took place in the house just before Mr. Guerena was killed.

It was a Thursday morning in a comfortable Tucson neighborhood.  Vanessa Guerena was making breakfast.  One of her young boys was at school.  The other, age 4, was waking up.  He wanted to watch “The Transformers” on television.

Outside, an armored car was rolling up Redwater Drive.  SWAT team members in black helmets and armor poured out.  A siren wailed.  Thirty seconds later, officers bashed down he front door.  Within seconds, the popping of gunfire rang out.

. . .

After the shooting subsided, Vanessa said she crept out of hiding from inside a closet with her son, who was still wearing Spider-Man pajamas.  She tried to talk to her husband and frantically called 911.

It would be an hour later that deputies told her he was dead.  They had waited to send in a remote-controlled robot to secure the scene.

The moments leading up to the killing of Mr. Guerena were reported by William N. Grigg on his website Pro Libertate:

Jose, who had finished a graveyard shift at the Asarco copper mine, was sleeping when a SWAT team from the Pima County Sheriff’s Office laid siege to his home on the morning of May 5.  Vanessa was doing laundry, and the couple’s four-year-old son Joel was watching “Transformers,” when the SWAT raiders pulled up in a Bear Cat armored vehicle.

The siren sounded for less than tene seconds; just a few seconds later, the order to “breach” the door was given because, as on-scene commander Deputy Krygier later explained, nobody inside the house had “submitted to our authority.”

Vanessa initially thought that there was an emergency “somewhere in the neighborhood,” and called the police.  When she saw armed intruders on her property, Vanessa screamed for her husband to take up.  Jose told Vanessa to take their younger son (whose older brother, Jose, Jr., was in school) and hide in the closet, while he went to confront the invaders.

Seconds later, Jose was sprawled face-first in a pool of his own blood, shredded by more than sixty rounds fired by the SWAT team.  That’s how his four-year-old son would later find him.  Joel was left alone after Vanessa, who had gone out to plead for someone to get medical help for her husband, was assaulted and brutalized by the SWAT operators and then detained for questioning.  The child remained alone in the house with the body of his dead father while Krygier developed a “tactical team” to extract the child at minimal risk.  That is, minimal risk to the berserkers who had just killed Joel’s dad.

“The government of Pima County has killed one of its own citizens,” wrote Radley Balko, a critic of police SWAT teams, in The Huffington Post.  “This is the most serious, solemn, and severe action a local government can undertake.”

Mr. Balko suggested that there may be cover-ups after over-aggressive use of SWAT teams:

You begin to see patterns in how police agencies respond to high-profile incidents like this one.  One near-universal tactic is to lock down information once the media begins to grow skeptical.  Another, often undertaken simultaneously, is to officially leak information that’s beneficial to the police department.  They’re doing both in Tucson.