Recently, a whole lot of lead has been flying in the otherwise sleepy desert berg of Tucson, Arizona. A few days ago, a Pima County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team descended upon a former Marine’s house at 9 in the morning to serve a search warrant pursuant to a drug investigation. Within 7 seconds of their arrival, 72 shots were fired and the homeowner, Jose Guereña lay dying on his kitchen floor. Despite former Surgeon General and co-founder of the PCSO SWAT team Richard Carmona’s assurances the unit’s members included highly trained medics capable of first-rate battlefield medicine, and such “care is not [rendered] according to good guy or bad guy or suspect. Whoever needs the care, gets the care as quickly and safely as possible,” Guereña lay struggling for his life for well over an hour before medics were allowed in. Despite arriving within 2 minutes of his wife’s desperate 911 call, they were told to wait. And wait they did, until they were finally given a “code 900,” meaning the suspect was dead and their life-saving services were no longer needed. Guereña’s wife and child fled past him after the barrage of rifle fire was over and deputies rousted them from their hiding place in a bedroom closet. Vanessa Guereña begged officials to render aid to her husband the whole time, but to no avail.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Office has not released any details about the warrant, what they were looking for or what they got, besides a cryptic notice that they “found information pertinent to the investigation.” What is clear is that there was no arrest warrant, nor were any drugs, illegal guns or cash found at the residence of Jose Guereña. So far, the details have been very slow to come out. At first, Sheriff’s Deputies insisted that Guereña had fired his AR-15 rifle at them, forcing them to open fire, but now they admit that they fired first, and he died holding that gun with the safety still on. According to Michael O’Connor, as quoted by the Arizona Daily Star, “a deputy’s bullet struck the side of the doorway, causing chips of wood to fall on his shield, that prompted some members of the team to think the deputy had been shot.”
Some may be inclined to ask, “who cares if some drug dealer got killed pointing his rifle at the cops?” However, there is no evidence Mr. Guereña was a drug dealer, nor is it clear he had any idea that the armed men barging into his home were cops. That same spokes-bureaucrat, Mr. O’Connor insisted, “Tucson is notorious for home invasions and we didn’t want it to look like that,” ignoring the obvious fact that, aside from official government sanction and some chincy costume jewelry, that’s exactly what it was. Deputies say they clearly identified themselves, but witnesses, including Vanessa Guereña disagree. Jose had returned from the night shift at the Asarco mine only a few hours before the raid. His wife woke him up when she heard noises outside her window and saw a man with a gun. Jose told her to hide in the closet with their son, and he grabbed a rifle and went to the door to investigate.
Surely, his Marine training, honed by two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan came into play, because he crouched in a ready position and awaited the invaders. Days later, the PCSO would say that he told them he had “something for them,” as they kicked his door in, as if such a statement incriminated him. Normally, everyone would agree that a man has every right to defend his home and family against armed aggression, even if he spouts pithy catchphrases in the face of certain death, but when members of the state’s high caste of official violence are involved, the slightest hint of resistance is deemed a criminal act, even if the victim has no idea why or by whom he’s being attacked.
Jose was just 26 years old, and he leaves an even younger widow. His 4-year-old son saw his father dying in his own home. If the PCSO has any damning evidence suggesting he was a real criminal, they’re certainly being tight lipped about it, but neither Jose nor Vanessa has any criminal record of any kind. Given the gravity of the situation, if Guereña was a real threat to society, I think it would have come out by now.
The bottom line is, SWAT teams were created for handling dangerous hostage situations, not serving routine search warrants. Even if Guereña was guilty of some kind of drug crime, summary execution is obviously not an appropriate punishment. Reasonable people must ask, in what universe is it appropriate to fire 72 rounds into a residence in order to subdue ONE MAN? Obviously, this highly militarized SWAT team was just itching for action, and furthermore, their dubious training of emptying magazines at the slightest provocation led to this terrible outcome. They were not reacting to a genuine hostile fire situation, but rather to the negligent discharge of one of their own men, a guy apparently amped up on adrenaline and woefully unaware of the basic “no booger hook on the bang switch” gun safety rule.
This brings me to the next case of negligent firearm discharge by police here in the Old Pueblo. Back in March, Tucson police confronted a man suspected of a carjacking and an armed convenience store robbery at the apartment complex where they had tracked him down. After a police officer took his accomplice, Roger Wells, into custody, the driver of the car, Nicholas Johnson, threw his vehicle into reverse in an effort to escape, and in the process, caught the officer up in the rear driver-side door, which was ajar. After the officer was dragged a few feet, he was able to roll free, and Johnson put the car in drive and tried to get away, but the cop was still in front of the car. This prompted all 7 of the police officers present, including the officer on the ground, to open fire on the car, despite there being an innocent female passenger inside. A total of 53 round were fired, but only 7 hit the suspect (including one shotgun blast), and a bullet grazed an innocent female passenger in the car. Fortunately, no one else was hurt, but Nicholas was killed on the spot, though not before being chewed on by a police dog for good measure. No one in the car ever fired a shot, or was found to be in possession of a firearm.
This “magazine dumping” policy of what amounts to summary execution (Guereña was hit over 60 times, the PCSO SWAT team being apparently better marksmen than their TPD colleagues) demonstrates a depraved indifference to human life and the property of others. Police officers have every right to defend themselves against aggression from real criminal suspects high on drugs, but trigger happy adrenaline junkies who shoot first, and keep on shooting until there’s nothing left in the magazine (then reload and do it again), are a danger to everyone, even each other. Even more so, now that the Supreme Court has ruled that police have every right to kick in your door, without obtaining a search warrant, if they “hear noises” they believe to be the result of the destruction of evidence. Worse yet, at least for the residents of Indiana, their Supreme Court’s two most recent decisions have essentially repudiated the Magna Carta and the 4th Amendment, officially codifying what we have long known to be true here at Cop Block – there exists no legal right to resist violent assault by the state’s armed enforcers, even when they are obviously in violation of the law (which is now technically not possible, since whatever they do is now presumed to be legitimate; they finally ARE the law). You must always submit, citizen. These godawful rulings were predicated on the assumption that modern courts provide defendants with a wide range of options for legal redress, and are the appropriate venue for adjudicating any dispute over the validity of an arrest, search or other police action. Yeah, right. Tell that to Jose Guereña. Oh, wait…