SWAT officers' 71 gunshots require an explanation

Our view: Alarming wall of silence surrounds death of ex-Marine in his home
2011-05-18T00:00:00Z 2011-05-18T11:42:54Z SWAT officers' 71 gunshots require an explanation Arizona Daily Star
May 18, 2011 12:00 am

The Pima County Sheriff's Department must explain the circumstances that led to SWAT officers firing 71 bullets at a former Marine inside his house while serving a search warrant.

The man, Jose Guerena, was hit 60 times and died while medics were kept outside and his wife pleaded with 911 dispatchers for help.

The wall of silence put up by the Sheriff's Department is alarming. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik has refused to answer questions about the May 5 shooting.

A department spokesman told the Star's Fernanda Echavarri that no comment will be forthcoming until an investigation is complete - but the public has not been given any idea of when that will be.

What's more, the court documents that explain what officers were looking for at Guerena's home, or in three nearby homes that were also part of a drug investigation, have been sealed. Documents detailing what was seized as evidence have also been made secret.

Echavarri's reporting has unearthed details from the 911 call Guerena's wife, Vanessa, made while she and their young son were hiding in the closet. She has said she saw a man at the window on the morning of May 5 and heard noises outside.

She woke her husband, who was asleep after working the graveyard shift at his mining job.

He grabbed his AR-15 rifle, told his wife and child to hide and went into the kitchen, where he was shot in the stomach and hands, according to what a doctor told the family.

Deputies first said Jose Guerena fired at officers but later said he kept the gun safety on and never pulled the trigger.

Vanessa Guerena was on the line with 911 dispatchers for about five minutes pleading for someone to send help because her husband had been shot. She told them she didn't know what was going on, only that "a bunch of people" entered the house and shot him.

The public that depends on the Pima County Sheriff's Department for law enforcement and underwrites the department with tax dollars - not to mention the Guerena family - should know the answers to basic questions:

• What were SWAT officers looking for with the search warrant?

• Did they find anything illegal?

• Why did it take so long - about four minutes - for 911 dispatchers to figure out if Guerena's address was on the list of search warrants being served that morning?

• Why did officers shoot at Guerena, who had not fired his gun, 71 times?

• Why were emergency medical personnel kept out of the home for approximately an hour, even though his wife was pleading for help? Guerena was dead when they were finally allowed in.

• Why were search warrants sealed after the shooting, and was that done according to legal procedures?

It's easy to second-guess actions taken in a split second. But a man was killed at the hand of law enforcement officers and the circumstances surrounding the shooting raise serious questions about what happened.

Dupnik and the Sheriff's Department have much to answer, and the community is waiting.

Arizona Daily Star

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