Written by Joshua Patton,
Those of us who have served in the military share a sort of kinship with police officers. Both are ultimately “a job,” but unlike other work, both of these positions carry with them a high risk of being killed while on duty. Still the similarities are there: Both wear uniforms, both carry weapons, and both carry out their duties as part of a larger force meant to “serve and protect.” There are myriad differences between the two forces, but while they may not be siblings they are at least cousins. This is what makes the story of the death of Jose Guerena so tragic.
First the facts: On May 5, 2011 a Pima County SWAT team shot and killed Jose Guerena, a former Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, while serving a search warrant in a drug-related investigation. A video released of the team arriving at Guerena’s home shows that they sounded there sirens for about three seconds, broke in the door, and then after about five seconds fired about 70 rounds into the home. Guerena, who had been asleep after working the graveyard shift in a local mine, was awakened by his wife who was saw the armed men approaching and was scared. Guerena told them to hide and he armed himself with an AR-15, pointed toward the door but with the safety on. After he was shot, the SWAT team sent a robot in to determine if he was responsive and paramedics that had arrived on the scene were sent away because Guerena had expired.
In interviews after-the-fact Vanessa Guerena, Jose’s widow, said that the police did not identify themselves. Arizona has had trouble in the past with home invasions where the perpetrators were dressed as police and would, at best, steal from the home or, at worst, kill the residents, including relatives of Guerena’s widow. The story told by the Pima County Sherriff’s Office has changed a great deal. At first they said Guerena fired on them first, however later they admitted that not only did he not open fire, but in fact the safety was left on. The video shows that the door was opened and shots were fired in a matter of seconds. At no point was Guerena given the option to put down his weapon. According to reporting by Radley Balko, the search warrants and documents related to the case were not sealed until after Guerena’s death and inquiries from the media began to flow in. And while the investigation still continues, KGUN and the Arizona Daily Star indicate that no cash, drugs, or anything but the most circumstantial of evidence was found in his home.
There are many different opinions about this case depending on where one stands on the drug war, abuse of police power, and the right to own assault rifles. Yet as someone who is in tune with the issues in the Veteran community, there are questions that are not being asked. Firstly, did Guerena have any issues with PTSD? If Guerena was involved in illicit activities with the others involved in the four-house raid – which included his brother Alejandro – could adverse employment conditions facing Veterans today have driven him to it? Ultimately, these questions are irrelevant; the answers will not give back a husband and father who was shot to death in his home in a situation where “slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” easily could have applied. In Iraq or Afghanistan the Soldiers and Marines are beholden to Rules of Engagement, which usually instruct soldiers to not fire unless fired upon. If only the Pima County SWAT team had a similar ROE, perhaps May 5, 2011 could have passed with no bloodshed.
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