By Phillip Smith
An Arizona county and several towns will pay big-time for the killing of homeowner Jose Guerena in a 2011 SWAT drug raid. The jurisdictions will pay $3.4 million to his widow to settle a lawsuit she filed after his death, the Associated Press reported last Thursday.
Guerena was gunned down in the hallway of his home by invading SWAT officers as he crouched defensively with an AR-15 in his hands. Five SWAT officers fired 72 shots at him, hitting him 22 times and killing him on the spot.
He had early that morning from working an overnight shift at the ASARCO mine, and was asleep in bed when his wife warned him that armed assailants were surrounding the house. He instructed his wife and four-year-old son to hide in a closet while he grabbed his rifle and went to confront the intruders. Police initially claimed he fired first, but that turned out not to be the case.
The case became a cause célèbre for critics of aggressive police tactics, even roiling the waters of the local Republican Party. A Google search for "Jose Guerena" now returns more than 62,000 hits.
His widow filed a $20 million lawsuit against Pima County and the towns of Marana, Sahuarita, and Oro Valley, all of which had officers on the SWAT team. She alleged that the SWAT team acted negligently throughout, beginning with the signing of the search warrant and extending to the period after Guerena was shot, when police left him lying on the floor for more than an hour before allowing medical treatment to begin.
Pima County prosecutors could find no fault with the raid or the SWAT team.
"Under the circumstances, and based upon our review of all the available evidence, we have concluded that the use of deadly forces by the SWAT Team members was reasonable and justified under the law," rule Pima County District Attorney Barbara LaWll. "Accordingly, the Pima County Attorney's Office finds no basis to prosecute," she concluded in her report.