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.
Richard Serrano reports in the Los Angeles Times that ATF Acting Deputy Director William Hoover saw Operation Fast and Furious falling apart almost as soon as it began, and quickly became involved in trying to orchestrate a way to end the operation:
Acting Deputy Director William Hoover called an emergency meeting and said he wanted an "exit strategy" to shut down the program. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for decades had dedicated itself to stopping illegal gun-trafficking of any kind. Now it was allowing illegal gun purchases on the Southwest border and letting weapons "walk" unchecked into Mexico.
But those at the meeting, which included a Justice Department official, did not want to stop the illegal gun sales until they had something to show for their efforts. Hoover suggested a "30-day, 60-day or 90-day" exit plan that would shut Fast and Furious down for good -- just as soon as there were some indictments.
But indictments did not come for another 10 months.
The indictments that came were little more than smokescreens designed to protect the government from the operation's clear failures in the wake of Agent Terry's death. The individual straw purchasers and smugglers taken into custody were all known to federal authorities prior to the start of the operation, and could have been arrested without letting thousands of guns flow into criminal hands.
Hoover's comments to the Times, Acting ATF Director Ken Melson's still secret July 4 testimony, and recent comments from the DEA administrator to congressional investigators indicate that officials within the Justice Department grasp the criminality of Gunwalker, and are beginning to come forward to tell their side of the story so that they cannot be scapegoated and forced to take the fall for an operation that appears to have started at the highest levels of government.