Thursday, May 26, 2011
Police state murder in Arizona...
On May 5 at around 9:30 a.m., several teams of Pima County, Ariz., police officers from at least four different police agencies armed with SWAT gear and an armored personnel carrier raided at least four homes as part of what at the time was described as an investigation into alleged marijuana trafficking. One of those homes belonged to 26-year-old Jose Guerena and his wife, Vanessa Guerena. The couple's 4-year-old son was also in the house at the time. Their 6-year-old son was at school.
As the SWAT team forced its way into his home, Guerena, a former Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, armed himself with his AR-15 rifle and told his wife and son to hide in a closet. As the officers entered, Guerena confronted them from the far end of a long, dark hallway. The police opened fire, releasing more than 70 rounds in about 7 seconds, at least 60 of which struck Guerena. He was pronounced dead a little over an hour later.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department initially claimed (PDF) Guerena fired his weapon at the SWAT team. They now acknowledge that not only did he not fire, the safety on his gun was still activated when he was killed. Guerena had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home. After ushering out his wife and son, the police refused to allow paramedics to access Guerena for more than hour, leaving the young father to bleed to death, alone, in his own home.
I can now report a number of new details that further call into question the police account of what happened that morning. But first some context:
The Pima County Sheriff's Office has now changed its story several times over the last few weeks. They have issued a press release (PDF) scolding the media and critics for questioning the legality of the raid, the department's account of what happened, and the department's ability to fairly investigate its own officers. They have obtained a court order sealing the search warrants and police affidavits that led to the raids, and they're now refusing any further comment on the case at all. When I contacted Public Information Officer Jason Ogan with some questions, he replied via email that the department won't be releasing any more information. On Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik told Arizona Daily Star columnist Josh Brodesky that he may never release the search warrants and police affidavits. Dupnik rose to national prominence earlier this year after claiming combative political rhetoric contributed to Jared Loughner killing six people and wounding 19 others, including Rep. Gabielle Giffords, last January.
The department's excuses for keeping all of this information under wraps make little sense. In his May 18 press release (PDF), for example, Ogan wrote, "The investigation that lead to the service of the search warrants on May 5 is a complicated one involving multiple people suspected of very serious crimes. Sometimes, law enforcement agencies must choose between the desire of the public to quickly know details, and the very real threat to innocent lives if those details are released prematurely." Dupnik used the same line of reasoning with Brodesky. "Those are the real sensitive parts of why we are having difficulty with trying to put information out publicly--because we don't want somebody getting killed," Dupnik said.
The problem with that explanation is that the search warrants and affidavits weren't sealed until four days after the raids were executed, right at about the time the troubling questions about Jose Guerena's death began to make national headlines. If revealing the details of this investigation -- which remember, was initially described by the Sheriff's Department as a marijuana investigation -- could endanger lives, why weren't the warrants and affidavits sealed from the start? It isn't difficult to understand why some would suspect a cover-up, or at least an attempt to suppress details until the department can come up with a narrative that mitigates the damage. In any case, it's awfully audacious for a police agency to scold the media for not trusting them and for "spreading misinformation" just days after revealing they themselves released bad information...