TUCSON, AZ — A multi-million dollar settlement concludes the disturbing case of Jose Guerena, the Iraq veteran who was riddled with bullets in his own home during a faulty SWAT raid. Not only did these armor-clad police perform a haphazard assault on an innocent family’s home, they prevented their victim’s wounds from being treated after they shot him dozens of times. The hefty disbursement of tax dollars to the Guerena family may be warranted, but does nothing to reprimand the trigger-happy officers, nor does it effectively reign in the aggressive department which is responsible for recklessly arranging paramilitary raids on people suspected of growing plants.
A Rude Awakening
On the morning of May 5, 2011, after working the graveyard shift at a copper mine, Jose Guerena and his wife were awoken at 9:30 AM to loud noises and voices outside their house. Guerena, a 26-year-old former U.S. marine who served 2 tours in Iraq, sprang from his bed began to secure his family. He and his wife thought that their home was being invaded. He hid his wife, Vanessa, and his 4-year-old son in a closet and grabbed his rifle.
He was correct that his home was being invaded. What he did not realize was that the invaders would be wearing uniforms labeled “police.” The noises that jarred Guerena awake would later be revealed to be the detonation of concussion grenades in their back yard. Unbeknownst to him — only seconds earlier — an armored truck had parked in their front yard and a SWAT team was rapidly preparing to break down his door.
Guerena approached the front door toward the source of the noises. Wearing only his boxer shorts, he defensively waited in the hallway for the unidentified bad guys to make their move. Within seconds the door was battered in. After a brief silence, Guerena peered around the corner. Four police officers unleashed a barrage of bullets down the hallway. A fifth one scurried up to the doorway and stuck his gun down the hallway, not wanting to miss his opportunity to participate in a kill. For 10 seconds the shots continued, a total of 71 in all.
No Rush to Save Guerena
Although he was hit dozens of times, Guerena did not die instantly. His wife reported hearing his moans continue after the shooting stopped. She called 9-1-1 for an ambulance. “He’s on the floor!” Vanessa cried to the operator. “Can you please hurry up?!”
But slow driving wouldn’t be the factor that ruined Jose’s chances of survival. The police directly denied him any possibility of being treated by preventing paramedics from seeing his body for an astonishing 1 hour and 14 minutes, while they “cleared the scene” and evacuated neighboring houses. Why rush? Dead men tell no tales.
SWAT commander Bob Krygier lured Vanessa and her young son from the home, who miraculously hadn’t been hit by the torrent of lead sent into their family home. As the clock ticked, police deployed not one — but two — consecutive robotic drones into the house to survey the scene. The first was a lightweight “throwbot” that they physically drove into Guerena’s body to see if he moved.
“It’s not the greatest video quality,” said the SWAT commander, explaining the tedious navigation of the robot. “We actually run the robot into him. Um, no, no response.”
Not wanting to miss an opportunity to use any of their toys, police also called in the bomb-squad so they could use their robot as well. This was a 500-pound, 4-wheeled behemoth, Wired reported, possibly the Andros F6A, which is used to clear battlefields of bombs and hostiles. It can be equipped with a shotgun. After they verified for a second time that Guerena’s body wasn’t moving, police devised an entry plan. “Very slow … methodical,” is how Krygier described it. The team slowly reentered the single-story house and swept the rooms.
The young military veteran didn’t have a chance. He bled out in his hallway, after being jarred awake and shot near his front door, just trying to protect his family. Guerena was hit 22 times.
Police later tried to claim that Guerena fired back. But that was quickly proven false, when his rifle was found with its safety still engaged. Every shot had been fired by SWAT.
Police seized from the home some legal guns, legal body armor, and a legal baseball cap with a “Border Patrol” logo. Nothing illegal was found. No illegal activities were evidenced.
Shot in 38 Seconds
One of the SWAT team members recorded the assault with a helmet camera. The video depicts how swiftly the raid — and Guerena — was executed. The assault team pulled in, blared the siren for a total of 7 seconds, threw multiple concussion grenades in the backyard, and began shooting within 38 seconds of putting their armored truck in ‘park.’ The disturbing footage is available here:
Assault Timeline (min:sec)
0:26 – Vehicle pulls in, parks.
0:29 – Siren begins.
0:36 – Siren ends. First knock.
0:40 – Grenade explodes.
0:50 – Second knock.
0:55 – Grenade explodes.
0:57 – Door breached.
1:04 – Shooting begins.
1:14 – Shooting ends.
Imagine going from sound asleep, to racing your loved ones into a closet, to getting gunned down in your house in 38 seconds. That’s not a lot of time to comprehend the situation, verify the threats, or understand the implications. A bunch of muffled screams and banging sounds could just as easily be a criminal gang as it could be a SWAT team. With only seconds to react, a frightened father has the choice of either presuming the intruders are criminal home invaders and picking up a gun, or presuming the intruders are from the government and sticking his hands in the air. Its a lose-lose situation if a homeowner makes the wrong split-second assumption in a groggy attempt to rationalize the situation. Guerena, being an innocent man and having the responsibility of protecting his family, presumed the aggression at his door was not from friendly sources, and picked up his rifle.
“We were so worried when he was over there fighting terrorism, but he gets shot in his own home,” said family relative, Reyna Ortiz. “The government killed one of their own.”
Blaming the Victim
The Sheriff’s Department stood by their henchmen. Nothing was mishandled, they said. “This was an unfortunate situation that was provoked by the person himself,” said Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, blaming the victim. This is what happens when people point guns at police, he asserted, disregarding the fact that police were breaking into a home occupied by a family and a protective father. In June 2011 all five killers were cleared of wrongdoing.
What was this about? What did police think Guerena was involved in? Robbery? Murder? None other than America’s greatest threat: cannabis. Investigators thought he was involved in selling marijuana, which his relatives were later charged with following the multiple raids police performed that day. The blood shed in Guerena’s living room can be accurately attributed to the cruel and unnecessary Drug War. Guerena joins a long line of other needless victims of America’s love affair with Prohibition.
His brother, Alejandro Ortiz Guerena, was the primary subject of the larger investigation. He would later plead guilty to attempted possession of marijuana for sale and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
As nation-wide outrage grew, the Pima County went into damage-control mode, and went ahead and named Jose Guerena in a drug indictment shared by his brothers. Christopher Scileppi, who represents Jose Guerena’s widow, Vanessa, said, “I have reviewed countless indictments during my career, but this is a first.” He called the indictment nothing more than an attempt “to damage the reputation of a Marine killed in his home by the police.”
“There is absolutely no reason to name Jose Guerena in the indictment other than a poorly veiled attempt to disparage him, his wife and children,” Scileppi said, adding: “This, after the police barged into their home with apparent little regard or care for human life, shooting wildly with handguns and a high-powered ballistic rifle more than seventy times mere feet away from Mrs. Guerena and their 4-year-old boy.”
Police claimed to have been investigating Jose and his relatives for 2 years, yet their own affidavit admits: “During the SIU surveillance concerning the aforementioned subjects [that is, Jose and the others], they were not observed handling or even in the proximity of narcotics.”
In August 2011, Vanessa Guerena sued the county, claiming the SWAT team acted negligently throughout the whole process, from procurement of the search warrant until after the shooting, when paramedics were prevented from tending to her bleeding husband.
Her lawsuit was settled in September 2013. How is it that a county can admit wrongdoing — to the tune of $3,400,000 — but manages to retain all parties involved? Why was no one fired? What policy changes have been made to prevent others from being killed in the name of keeping plants off the streets?
I invite you to reflect on the wise words of retired Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, an Oathkeeper who decries the aggressive, unnecessary use of SWAT teams and SWAT tactics. His strongly worded speech (below) lays out what he believes that a responsible department would have done.
Jose Guerena had never been convicted of a crime, had an honorable background in the U.S. Marine Corps, and was a hard-working married father of 2 children. By all accounts, he was an upstanding citizen. Rather than execute a violent assault on a home filled with a woman and child in it, Mack suggests intercepting Jose Guerena on his way home from work at the Asarco Mission copper mine, and then presenting the warrant to his wife and conducting the search as prescribed by law. Doing the search while the subject of the investigation was not present would have defused the opportunity for conflict, and nobody would have gotten hurt or killed.
But a sensible solution like that would have deprived SWAT of another opportunity to get dressed up in paramilitary drag and use all their cool toys, like their multiple concussion grenades, their $250,000 Lenco Bearcat, and their two remote-controlled robots.
Demand that those responsible for the raid and Guerena’s death be brought to justice.
The five officers involved in the shooting (Source: Arizona Star) were:
(1) Officer Jake Shumate, Marana Police;
(2) Officer Jason Horetski, Oro Valley Police;
(3) Officer Hector Iglesias, Sahuarita Police;
(4) Deputy Kenneth Walsh, Pima County Sheriff’s Department;
(5) Deputy Chris Garcia, Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
SWAT commander Bob Krygier led the raid.
Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik oversaw the investigation and the raid.
Chief Criminal Deputy David Berkman cleared the five officers of criminal wrongdoing.