Arizona SWAT Team's Shooting of Marine Causes Outrage - News - LawOfficer.com

Arizona SWAT Team's Shooting of Marine Causes Outrage

The department said Guerena was suspected of being involved in drug-trafficking & that the shooting happened because he arrived at the door brandishing a gun

 


 

AMANDA LEE MYERS | Monday, November 28, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Jose Guerena Ortiz was sleeping after an exhausting 12-hour night shift at a copper mine. His wife, Vanessa, had begun breakfast. Their 4-year-old son, Joel, asked to watch cartoons.

An ordinary morning was unfolding in the middle-class Tucson neighborhood — until an armored vehicle pulled into the family's driveway and men wearing heavy body armor and helmets climbed out, weapons ready.

They were a sheriff's department SWAT team who had come to execute a search warrant. But Vanessa Guerena insisted she had no idea, when she heard a "boom" and saw a dark-suited man pass by a window, that it was police outside her home. She shook her husband awake and told him someone was firing a gun outside.

A U.S. Marine veteran of the Iraq war, he was only trying to defend his family, she said, when he grabbed his own gun — an AR-15 assault rifle.

What happened next was captured on video after a member of the SWAT team activated a helmet-mounted camera.

The officers — four of whom carried .40-caliber handguns while another had an AR-15 — moved to the door, briefly sounding a siren, then shouting "Police!" in English and Spanish. With a thrust of a battering ram, they broke the door open. Eight seconds passed before they opened fire into the house.

And 10 seconds later, Guerena lay dying in a hallway 20-feet from the front door. The SWAT team fired 71 rounds, riddling his body 22 times, while his wife and child cowered in a closet.

"Hurry up, he's bleeding," Vanessa Guerena pleaded with a 911 operator. "I don't know why they shoot him. They open the door and shoot him. Please get me an ambulance."

When she emerged from the home minutes later, officers hustled her to a police van, even as she cried that her husband was unresponsive and bleeding, and that her young son was still inside. She begged them to get Joel out of the house before he saw his father in a puddle of blood on the floor.

But soon afterward, the boy appeared in the front doorway in Spider-Man pajamas, crying.

The Pima County Sheriff's Department said its SWAT team was at the home because Guerena was suspected of being involved in a drug-trafficking organization and that the shooting happened because he arrived at the door brandishing a gun. The county prosecutor's office says the shooting was justified.

But six months after the May 5 police gunfire shattered a peaceful morning and a family's life, investigators have made no arrests in the case that led to the raid. Outraged friends, co-workers and fellow Marines have called the shooting an injustice and demanded further investigation. A family lawyer has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the sheriff's office. And amid the outcry in online forums and social media outlets, the sheriff's 54-second video, which found its way to YouTube, has drawn more than 275,000 views.

The many questions swirling around the incident all boil down to one, repeated by Vanessa Guerena, as quoted in the 1,000-page police report on the case:

"Why, why, why was he killed?"

___

Outside the family's stucco home, a giant framed photo of Guerena in his Marine uniform sat placed in the front bay window, American flags waved in the yard and signs condemning his death were taped to the garage door.

The 27-year-old Guerena had completed two tours in Iraq, and a former superior there was among those who couldn't make sense of his death.

Leo Verdugo said Guerena stood out among other Marines for his maturity and sense of responsibility. Verdugo, who retired as a master sergeant last year after 25 years in the Marines, placed Guerena in charge of an important helicopter refueling mission in the remote west desert of Iraq.

"He had a lot of integrity and he was a man of his word," Verdugo said.

Verdugo, who also lives in Tucson, said Guerena came to him for advice in 2006 about whether to retire from the Marines and apply to the Border Patrol.

When Verdugo ran into Guerena and his wife at a Motor Vehicle Department office about a month before Guerena was killed, Verdugo said that Guerena told him that the Border Patrol had turned him down because of problems with his vision and that he had instead taken a mining job.

Those who worked with Guerena at ASARCO'S Mission Mine said the man they knew would never be a part of drug smuggling.

"I don't care what the cops say. I don't believe for one moment Jose was involved in anything illegal," said Sharon Hargrave, a co-worker, adding through tears: "They were judge, jury and executioner, and there was no excuse."

Guerena worked as a "helper" at two crushers in the mine, shoveling piles of rocks that fall from conveyor belts and wheel-barrowing heavy debris. "No one in their right mind" would choose this work, which paid about $41,000 a year, if they were bringing in drug smuggling money, Hargrave said.

"He was a hell of a worker," she said. "He's got good judgment and I could trust him."

She said Guerena talked constantly about his wife and two sons, Joel and Jose Jr., 5, who'd gone to school the morning of the shooting. "I know he was definitely in love with his wife and in love with his kids," she said.

Kevin Stephens, a chief steward at Mission mine and head of the miners' union there, said bluntly: "Personally, I think he was murdered, and that is the feeling that is out here."

But the sheriff's office said just because Guerena was a Marine and worked at a mine doesn't mean he couldn't be involved in drug trafficking.



Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
print share
 
What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Buyer's Guide

Companies | Products | Categories
Articles

Ferguson: A Lose-Lose Situation

All hell is breaking lose in Ferguson. And it is all so sad. Why? Because there are almost no winners while there are, unfortunately, plenty of losers... More >

 

Law Officer Survey

LEOs & Drug Policy

The results are in. More than 11,000 sworn LEOs took time out of their busy schedules to tell us what they think about America’s fast-changing drug policy.
More >

 

Get LawOfficer in Your Inbox

Terms of Service Privacy Policy