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Jose Guerena Vindicated: Widow Receives $3.4M Settlement from Arizona Police

A bumbling SWAT raid killed the hardworking Guerena, a combat Marine veteran of two tours.

by
Mike McDaniel

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October 13, 2013 - 12:00 am
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On May 5, 2011, at approximately 9:30 a.m., a SWAT team of officers from four local agencies served a search warrant at the home of Jose Guerena near Tucson, Arizona. The subject of the search warrant was drugs. Within seconds of breaking in the front door, the officers shot and killed Jose Guerena, who was apparently holding an AR-15 rifle.

Hearing only these facts, one might believe the officers were justified in killing Guerena, and might expect that Guerena’s widow would be unable to recover a dime. Anyone following the case’s media coverage — particularly if one believes the comments from Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik — might believe the SWAT team was one of the finest in the nation, that the officers made not a single mistake, and that Jose Guerena was a murderous thug, the “enforcer” of a multi-million dollar local drug cartel, and the prime suspect in a double murder.

Instead, Vanessa Guerena’s $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against the four police agencies was recently settled for $3.4 million. Even with that extraordinary settlement, the police of Pima County, Marana, Oro Valley, and Sahuarita have been loath to admit fault. Deputy Tracy Suitt of the Pima Couty Sheriff’s Department, which will pay $2.35 million of the settlement, wrote:

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department strongly believes the events of May 5, 2011, were unfortunate and tragic, but the officers performed that day in accordance with their training and nationally recognized standards.

However, legal advisors and insurers recognize the unpredictable resolution of disputes at trial regarding police conduct and even well-accepted police tactics. As a result, well established business and insurance principles call for compromise and the resolution of disputed cases to mitigate risk and avoid the expense of a trial.

Pima County administrator Chuck Huckleberry maintained the settlement was a “calculated risk management settlement,” which was not an admission of wrong-doing. Marana will pay $72,000, Oro Valley will pay $260,000 and Sahuarita will pay $100,000.

With a smaller settlement, perhaps Deputy Suitt’s and Administrator Huckleberry’s spin might be believable. But a $3.4 million settlement? The police did not want this case anywhere near a jury. And the attorneys for the police were wise indeed: the police made horrendous mistakes before, during, and after the raid, mistakes that caused the death of an innocent man.

I wrote at PJ Media of Jose Guerena two years ago: he was a Marine veteran of two combat tours, and was working 12-hour shifts in a local copper mine to provide for his young family at the time of his killing. On the morning of his death, he had returned from work only a few hours before the police arrived. He ate breakfast, showered, and went to bed. He had no idea that the police had been occasionally — and incompetently — watching him and his relatives for some time.

The search warrant affidavit for Guerena’s home, vehicles, and the homes and vehicles of three others mentioned no evidence of crime and was devoid of probable cause. The closest the affidavit could come to implicating Jose in a crime was an observation that he was the passenger in a pickup truck in which a roll of plastic wrap in a cardboard box was found. The affidavit also noted that years earlier, Guerena was arrested on drug charges and was once a “person of interest” in a drug-related case investigated by ICE. Deceptively, the affidavit did not tell the judge those charges were dismissed, and that nothing came of the ICE investigation. Amazingly, Detective Tisch, the author of the affidavit, wrote that during his year-long investigation of Guerena the police had not seen any of these supposed big-time drug criminals in possession of drugs. But Tisch asked for a warrant, and Judge Harrington granted it. (Harrington has refused my request to discuss his actions.)

None of the elementary elements of a competent drug investigation were present. There was no information from confidential informants, no photographs, video, or recordings of drug transactions, no controlled buys, no information about drug shipments, methods of sale, packaging, delivery, or, indeed, any specific information about what kinds of drugs, their quantities, and where they might be found.

Drug agents do not routinely serve warrants unless they are certain they’ll find substantial quantities of drugs and other evidence of crime, and are ready to make many arrests as high up the chain of a criminal organization as possible. To do otherwise is to ensure that most of the drugs, and most of the criminals at all levels, will simply vanish.

As Jose Guerena slept — he slept during the day for his night shifts — the SWAT team pulled up in front of his home. The interior walls of his home were a dark gray, all of the blinds were closed, and all of the lights were off.

Watch here: the 54-second video of the raid recorded by the police is a primer on how not to conduct a SWAT operation.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
The money doesn't make it right. Somebody in authority ought to be sitting in prison right now.

BTW, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik is a big lib who likes to pretend he "cares": http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/47293.html

And I haven't seen Joe Arpaio involved in any crap like this.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If you want stuff like this to become much more rare, then we need laws which make it clear that not prosecuting cops like this will make the department directly liable for damages. No insurance, the money comes right out of the department's budget without regard for how that affects the department as a whole.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mr McDaniel
Thank you for following up on this. I for one do not believe the police should have para-military teams breaking down doors. As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The men on those teams would serve their community better by patrolling the streets.

As I recall from your previous articles, the police had several chances to arrest this man in the open, in broad daylight, without breaking down his door in the early morning. If the police really thought this guy was some type of enforcer, then they put their men in extreme, unnecessary danger by raiding that house.

So many things wrong with this story...disgusting.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (34)
All Comments   (34)
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I have decided that if I see cops on my property that I will not only hide but call 911 immediately. They are not to be trusted for any reason and if you are holding a weapon in the defense of your home they will KILL you! They will not be punished nor will they show any remorse. If you have survivors they will probably throw down a "Weapon" if you were not holding one to make it look like you were holding to give them crediblity.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Good ol' Sheriff Dipstick, the same guy who tried to blame the inflammatory rhetoric of the Tea Party for the Gabby Giffords shooting. Seems that his SWAT Team did more murdering in one raid on one day than all the Tea Partiers in the world have ever done.......EVER!!! Still, not one of the killers is going to prison. If it seems unfair, it is.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
cops are not hired for their intellect, and it shows
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Another reason to remove from police and judges their immunity from personal responsibility for their acts.
Every cop on that raid should have had to kick-in part of the settlement, with the Sheriff and Judge paying 25% each.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Actually the Arizona Police will pay nothing. The Arizona Taxpayers will pay the $3.4 MIL, and Lawyers will receive about $1 MIL out of this.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It appears that Pima County, who will pay the majority of the 3.4 million, is not self-insured so the insurance policy will cover at least part of the amount. I do not know about the other counties involved regarding insurance. Pima County has spent about 250K of taxpayer money so far on private attorneys to defend this case. The final bill will be, no doubt, considerably higher.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've been watching/reading reports about SWAT teams for well over 20 years as they have become increasingly thuggish and irresponsible. As far as I'm concerned there should be a "dead or alive" bounty on 'em!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am going to look into an iron door inside an iron door jamb.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
For some unknown reason people on the right seen to accept knee-jerk support of police and law enforcement.

This conservative believes the police need to be kept on a short leash. MILITARIZATION of the police, terrorist style masks, excuses for excessive force puts us one step away from a POLICE STATE.

Look how the cops executed the unarmed, deranged woman in Washington 2 weeks ago.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As a conservative, I've been apalled at law enforcement's militarization and increasingly lethal and abusive policing.

I know that a favorite mantra is comparing non-liberals to the Gestapo, but realize that you're comparing "the right" to statists, socialists and fascists - all of them on the left. Obozo-care is the very definition of fascism. A frequent tactic of statists (and crazy ex-wives) is to accuse the opposition of doing *exactly* what they themselves are doing.

Regardless of ideology, an increasingly lethal and unaccountable government concerns all of us.

Meet us in the middle - become a libertarian?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think the Right's knee-jerk, no-questions-asked support of law enforcement ended a long time ago, Gellero. The comments on this very thread should reassure you of that. Waco and Ruby Ridge served as wake-up calls and the steady drumbeat of no-knock raids, dead family pets, terrorized families and murdered innocents have only eroded our confidence further.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I wish that were true, Shepard. I think it's still very much alive and well in the WWII and Korea generation, and among low-information Republicans. (Yes, there are a lot of those. That's how people like Romney can get nominated.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Then four officers fired a panicky, uncontrolled, and un-aimed fusillade of 71 rounds, hitting Guerena 22 times. The other 49 bullets shredded the Guerena home floor-to-ceiling and exterior wall to exterior wall. They actually hit several nearby homes. One SWAT officer not involved in the initial shots drew his handgun, ran to the door, and fired a number of “me too” shots between the heads of his fellow officers. He could not have had any idea of what he was shooting at or why."

And keep in mind these are SWAT officers, ie the officers likely to have received the most "training" on how and when to use their weapons. The best training their department can provide and all they're capable of is panic fire. Remember that next time some jerk tries to tell you that I can't be trusted with my CCW because I'm insufficiently trained.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Is the 3.4 million before or after the Lawyers cut? 3.4 million is not a lot of money. It is basically replacement money of what he could have made if he had lived and done well. There really is not much punishment value in the award amount.

Given inflation, perhaps bad investments or unfortunate turn of events 3.4 million is worth less than having a hard working wage earner.

Which brings me to the fact of hard work. If he was working 12 hours shifts when did he have time to deal drugs or be an enforcer?

This story sucks!

It was bad enough that Dupnik inserted himself in the Gabby Giffords shooting and is pro-Obama. Now I am scared because I see what a dangerous martinet that he is. He is not properly training or disciplining his police force and they have a lot of fire power. This is on top of the fact that I fear he is so politically dishonest that he would not be a above political prosecutions if the civil fabric unraveled a little more.

His police force seems more like a goon squad with heavy weapons.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
3.4 million is less than Lois Learner's estimated IRS retirement.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As a high level official, she will do way better than that. $3.4 million is about the value of the average public service employee's post-retirement pension and benefits. You think I am exaggerating? Do the math: retire at 55 with a pension worth $90k per year and a health plan that would cost $15k per year on the open market. If you live until you are 85, the taxpayer is on the hook for over $3 mm. You or I would have to save that much mostly after taxes during our working career to enjoy the same security and comfort. Yes I know they do pay something in but those small amounts are enabled by their generous salaries paid by the public.

This is the greatest scam perpetrated by government on the American people. The richest among us are, effectively, public service employees. But they still manage to badger and brow beat the private sector into giving them more and more for doing less and less.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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