Gunwalker: U.S. Attorney Won't Grant Victim Status to Murdered Agent's Family

The family of the most prominent U.S. murder victim of Operation Fast and Furious is being victimized again -- this time by the very DOJ officials that could one day face felony charges connected to the gun smuggling operation:

In a surprise move in a controversial case, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona is opposing a routine motion by the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry to qualify as crime victims in the eyes of the court.

The family asked to intervene as victims in the case against Jamie Avila, the 23-year-old Phoenix man who purchased the guns allegedly used to kill Terry. Such motions are routinely approved by prosecutors, but may be opposed by defense attorneys.

However in this case, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke argues because the family was not "directly or proximately harmed" by the illegal purchase of the murder weapon, it does not meet the definition of "crime victim" in the Avila case. Burke claims the victim of the Avila's gun purchases, "is not any particular person, but society in general."

The family of a murdered man not qualifying as being "proximately harmed" certainly raises the question of what the U.S. attorney could possibly believe to be the threshold for proximity.

The maneuver by Burke appears self-serving: his office ran Operation Fast and Furious on the ground, and two guns "walked" under Burke's command were used in the firefight that murdered Agent Brian Terry. Burke's provocative decision to block a routine filing seems intended to protect him in the event of a criminal or civil trial:

Burke may also be trying to protect the federal government. The family may pursue a wrongful death claim against federal agents, including Burke himself.

"If the evidence shows Brian's death was proximately caused by the negligence of government, there may be a cause of action," said Paul Charlton, the family's attorney.

Coffey says that puts Burke in a tough spot.

"The government's already been put on notice that they might be facing a wrongful death action by the family. And you have to wonder if the government's efforts to deny the family the status of 'crime victims' is part of a strategy to avoid legal responsibility for some of the tragic mistakes of Operation Fast and Furious," he said.

Burke oversaw an operation that may have been responsible for more deaths than any terrorist attack on U.S. or Mexican soil prior to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. That he is still employed as a U.S. attorney brings into question the competence of the current Department of Justice.

While Burke seems intent on covering up his role in Gunwalker and creating his legal defenses, the number two official in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives appears ready to share everything he knows.