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In a mid-morning drug raid May 5, a Pima County SWAT team executing a search warrant shot and killed a 26-year-old Afghan and Iraq war veteran after he confronted the intruders with a weapon in his hand. Jose Guerena become the 27th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. (Actually, he was the 25th, but the Pima County Sheriff's office has been so dilatory in releasing information that we logged two more drug war deaths before we were able add this one to the list.)

In sum: A veteran of the Marine Corps is gunned down as his wife and child hide in the closet (after begging SWAT team members not to shoot). No drugs/money were found in the raid. Because Pima County Sheriff's Dept supplied the media and victim's family with false information about the raid, there is skepticism regarding their claim that some type of vague "pertinent evidence" was found in the property.

The  "fog of war" that we heard so much about recently seems to be floating around in Arizona, as the "official" story surrounding a botched drug raid has shifted and changed in response to questions from family and media. Initial Pima County Sheriff accounts were unambivalent and very, very clear: Jose Guerena had opened fire on SWAT team members, resulting in bullet damage to SWAT team assault shields.

Not only was that proclamation definitively false, but...

According to the initial police account, when SWAT officers broke down the door of Guerena's home, which he shared with his wife and young child, he confronted them and opened fire. "The adult male had a long rifle, opened fire on the SWAT team. The SWAT team returned fire and the male is pronounced deceased. The woman and the child are unharmed," said Pima County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Ogan.

Six days later, police admitted that while Guerena, a former Marine, was holding an AR-15 assault rifle, the safety was on and he had not fired it. They also admitted that SWAT officers fired 71 rounds at Guerena in seven seconds. It was also later reported that even though Guerena's wife called 911 as soon as he was shot and that EMTs arrived two minutes later, deputies never allowed them to treat Guerena, citing security concerns. (Recall that in the Jared Loughner mass killing in Tucson earlier this year, EMTs were allowed to treat the wounded in a matter of minutes despite the chaos of that scene.)

In an interview with KGUN9-TV, Guerena's wife, Vanessa, explained that her husband had worked the night shift at his job at a mine and been asleep only a couple of hours when the raiders arrived. When she saw armed men in her house pointing guns at her, she said, "Please don't shoot, I have a baby…and I yell 'Jose! Jose! Wake up!'"

The SWAT team didn't identify itself before breaking in her door and entering her home, Guerena said. "You're saying only (they) yelled SWAT after the shootout?" KGUN9asked. "Oh, yes! Yes," said Guerena.

Her husband grabbed a gun to protect himself from what he thought were home invaders, she said


Arizona is a state where gun rights are celebrated, and Arizona Republicans just passed a bill allowing guns on campuses. There is no law prohibiting a homeowner from arming themselves against a home invasions [that occur in pre-dawn hours when you've only been home for two hours after working the late shift.]

 When innocents are dying, we cannot fail to question the policies that caused those deaths. And their attempts to put spin on the situation is all-too-familiar to any observers of war.

Even though many active law enforcement/ prison lobbies push for more funding for the war on drugs, it is a war that takes a toll on both sides. L.E.A.P. [Law Enforcement Against Prohibition] held a vigil yesterday (May 13th) for officers slain in drug war violence.

In conjunction with Peace Officers Memorial Day, some police are pointing out how too many law enforcers are killed in the line of duty enforcing a senseless and unwinnable "war on drugs."  


"When one of my best friends was killed doing an undercover drug purchase, it opened my eyes to the fact that not only are these drug laws ineffective, but they lead to brave and dedicated law enforcers losing their lives," said Neill Franklin, a 34-year veteran of the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department, now LEAP's executive director. "Ed Toatley was one of the best narcotics agents the state of Maryland ever had, but this failed drug war wasn't worth him losing his life over."

Stories like this happen routinely, though the stories of some victims do manage to get attention beyond the local region. Kathryn Johnston's 2006 shooting death is an example.

Beyond the needless loss of civil liberties that results from the War on Drugs, there are other consequences.

For Kathryn Johnston, it was the loss of her life...

For the city of Atlanta, there is a $4.9 million bill for taxpayers, as a result of a settlement with the family of Kathryn.

from cnn:

The city of Atlanta will pay $4.9 million to the family of Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old woman killed in a botched November 2006 drug raid, Mayor Kasim Reed's office announced Monday.

Johnston was shot to death by narcotics officers conducting a "no-knock" warrant. Investigators later determined the raid was based on falsified paperwork stating that illegal drugs were present in the home.

A heavy price to pay for marijuana that didn't even belong to Kathryn Johnston, but was planted in her home AFTER she was shot dead. The details of the murder are reminiscent of what happened in the Tuscon raid, although in this case the homeowner did fire a justified shot in self-defense:

As the search warrant was being executed November 21, 2006, at Johnston's home, she fired at officers with an old pistol, apparently believing her home was being broken into. Six officers returned fire. Johnston's one shot went through her front door and over the officers' heads. They responded with 39 shots, hitting the elderly woman five times.

Depending on your socioeconomic status and the color of your skin, you may or may not see the symptoms of our Drug War Disease in your personal life.


Rachel Hoffman was one example.

a 23 year old Florida State University graduate was busted for
pot possession of LESS THAN AN OUNCE, in her car during a stop for a SPEEDING ticket. At the request (or strong-arming)of the Tallahassee Police Dept., she acted as a drug buyer/informant during a drug sale involving ecstasy, crack, and a gun. She was killed during that transaction, simply because a trained narcotics undercover officer wasn't doing what Rachel Hoffman was asked to do.

Reading some of the comments in that diary from 2008 are a reminder of just how little progress on federal drug reform has been made in these past two years, as our country grapples with its plethora of problems.

donate to NORML (24+ / 0-)
and on another note, Obama does represent a great opportunity to reform these laws
I'm hopeful... (8+ / 0-)
that an Obama presidency will bring in a whole new realm of thinking in this country. There are always some things said on the campaign trail that don't hold up once elected. Unfortunately, drug law and prison reform are 2 of those topics that are toxic for politicians. If Obama were to stand up now and say that he wants to legalize marijuana, well, we end up with John McSame as president.

After the election, things can change, and I'm hoping they will. Others, Barney Frank for one, are starting to raise the possibility, we just need to be there to support those that see the War on Drugs™ for what is. Once we win back this country, we can hopefully start changing some of these failed draconian policies.

Perhaps sooner rather than later, these types of news stories can become a part of the past instead of the future. We've seen multiple states reform their laws these past two years in bipartisan efforts, so there is no reason to let Congress off the hook.  

" How many more will have to suffer, how many more will have to die? "  

Many, many more.


Originally posted to theytookmyblogalready on Sat May 14, 2011 at 10:53 AM PDT.

Also republished by Military Community Members of Daily Kos.

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