Police/Suspect Altercations

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Armed Drug Suspect Killed in Houston SWAT Raid

A drug suspect was shot and killed by a member of a Houston Police Department SWAT team early Wednesday. The as yet unnamed man becomes the 30th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Houston Chronicle, which cited police sources, SWAT team members were executing a narcotics search warrant at dawn in northeast Harris County when they encountered the man, described as a Hispanic in his 40s or 50s. As SWAT members entered the home from the side and front, "the suspect produced a handgun when confronted and was shot by a member of the team." The shooter was identified as Houston Police Officer SJ Hamala.

The dead man was one of four people named in the warrant. The other three were not found at the residence and remain at large.

Police said they used a SWAT team to conduct the raid because they had information the suspect had many weapons in his home.

At last report, narcotics officers were on the scene and conducting an investigation. No word yet on what, if anything, was seized.

Houston, TX
United States

Big Payout in Drug Raid Killing of Ex-Marine

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.

Jose Guerena
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 returned 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 force by the SWAT Team members was reasonable and justified under the law," ruled Pima County District Attorney Barbara LaWall. "Accordingly, the Pima County Attorney's Office finds no basis to prosecute," she concluded in her report.

Tucson, AZ
United States

Texas Trooper Cleared in Chopper Drug War Killings

A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who opened fire from a helicopter on a fleeing pickup carrying what he thought was a drug load near the US-Mexico border, killing two Guatemalan immigrants, will not face criminal charges. A grand jury in Edinburg declined Tuesday to indict him in the deaths.

Hidalgo County prosecutors had presented the case to a grand jury after the killing stirred outrage not only from the Guatemalan government, but also among people concerned about lax rules for law enforcement use of deadly force from the air.

In the October 2012 incident, Trooper Miguel Avila was aboard the Department of Public Safety (DPS) chopper as it participated in the pursuit of the pickup. DPS said Avila believed the truck, whose bed was covered with a cloth, was carrying drugs, and that he opened fire to disable it because the fleeing vehicle was headed toward a school zone. (The shooting took place on an unpaved rural road.)

The truck crashed after being fired upon. Police found no drugs, but instead found nine Guatemalan immigrants and a teenage driver. Six of the Guatemalans were in the bed of the pickup covered by a cloth. Two of them, Marco Antonio Castro and Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar, were fatally wounded by Avila's gunfire.

While the two men's killer escaped criminal charges, the killing did force DPS to revise its policies on the use of force from the sky. Since February, troopers have been prohibited from shooting from the sky unless they are facing deadly force.

"A firearms discharge from an aircraft is authorized only when an officer reasonably believes that the suspect has used or is about to use deadly force by use of a deadly weapon against the air crew, ground officers or innocent third parties," the revised policy says. Reckless or aggressive driving doesn't count as use of a deadly weapon, the policy states.

Edinburg, TX
United States

Texas Man Shot and Killed in Drug Raid

Texas sheriff's deputies executing a narcotics search warrant shot and killed a Hidden Harbor Hills man Monday night. Daniel Richard Vasquez, 33, becomes the 28th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year and the second in the past week.

According to the Athens Review, relying on police sources, Henderson County Sheriff's Office investigators were serving the search warrant when a "confrontation" occurred between Vasquez and the officers. "During the course of the search, an HCSO investigator shot Vasquez," the newspaper reported.

Vasquez was transported to the East Texas Medical Center in Gun Barrel City, where he was pronounced dead. His body has been shipped to Dallas for an autopsy.

The sheriff's office has not released any further details, including whether Vasquez was armed or whether any drugs were found.

The killing will be investigated by Texas Rangers. Any further information will be released by the Rangers and the Henderson County District Attorney's Office.

Hidden Harbor Hills, TX
United States

California Cops Gun Down Unarmed Meth Dealer

Undercover police in Sunnyvale, California, shot and killed an unarmed alleged methamphetamine dealer last Wednesday afternoon. Juan Ruelas, 34, becomes the 27th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to NBC Bay Area News, citing police spokesmen, Ruelas was being investigated by the Santa Clara County Specialized Crimes Action Team (SCAT) and members of a DEA drug task force, whose undercover officers had purchased meth from him several times over the past month. Police set up another buy Wednesday afternoon at a Hobee's restaurant in Sunnyvale, and an undercover officer had just purchased a pound of meth from him when the shooting occurred.

Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Captain Dave Pitts said that after the deal went down, Ruelas suddenly threatened the officer and said he had a gun. Then, Pitts said, Ruelas "made a movement that led the officer to believe he was reaching for a gun." No fewer than six officers on the scene then opened on fire on Ruelas, mortally wounding him. He died later the same day in a local hospital.

No gun was found.

In an earlier NBC Bay Area News report, a manager at the Motel 6 next door to the restaurant provided a different account. He told reporters that it looked like a driver had been pulled over for a traffic violation. The manager, John Carroll, said officers were shouting at a person in the vehicle to get out of the car. When that person began to comply, police gunfire broke out, he said.

Ruelas' family wants to know what happened, members told ABC News 7. "Our question was, you know, 'Was he armed?'" said Ruelas' sister, Maria Bunker. "And he just told my brother, 'no, we never found a weapon.'"

Bunker also questioned the police narrative of events. "The pictures that we see all over the media, they show his truck being boxed in," Bunker said. "He had a stroke recently so it's like, he wasn't going to run from them."

Police spokesman Pitts said the shooters were five Santa Clara police detectives and a sheriff's detective. The shooting is being investigated by Sunnyvale public safety investigators, who will forward their findings to the county district attorney's office for review.

Sunnyvale, CA
United States

DEA Must Pay $3 Million in 2010 Killing of LA Teen

A federal judge Tuesday awarded $3 million to the family of an 18-year-old Los Angeles honors student who was gunned down by undercover DEA agents in a parking garage in 2010. But the judge also ruled the officers were not negligent in their actions.

Zachary Champommier (justiceforazac.blogspot.com)
Zachary Champommier died when he drove into a Studio City shopping center parking lot to meet a friend. Also in the parking lot were a group of undercover officers, including DEA agents and LA County sheriff's deputies and LAPD officers who had been deputized by the DEA.

The cops were discussing a search warrant they had just served when they observed Champommier's friend walking in the parking garage. Suspecting the friend was breaking into cars, they detained him. When Champommier drove up, he saw his friend being accosted by people he didn't know and attempted to drive away from possible trouble.

Officers claimed that Champommier's vehicle struck a deputy as he attempted to leave the scene. Officers opened fire, killing the 18-year-old honor student and "band geek."

Both the DEA and the LA County Sheriff's Department said the shooting was justifiable because Champommier had tried to run down an officer.

"The nature of [Champommier's] aggressive actions, actually hitting the deputy -- that is not someone who is without some degree of fault," Sheriff Lee Baca said shortly after the shooting.

Champommier's mother, Carol, filed a wrongful death lawsuit, charging that federal and local drug enforcement officers were reckless in shooting at her son, who she claimed posed no reasonable threat.

US District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled that the DEA agents did have reason to believe they were in danger, but acted recklessly in shooting at Champommier's vehicle as it passed them because at that point they were no longer in danger.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

South Carolina Man Is Latest Drug War Fatality

A Summerville, South Carolina man was shot and killed by police after allegedly engaging them with gunfire as he fled a traffic stop turned drug bust. Travis Miller, 22, becomes the 26th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WCSC-TV Live 5 News, citing police sources, the incident began as an attempted traffic stop by city of Hanahan police. They were trying "to stop a motorist for a window tint violation a little before midnight" Monday, but the driver refused to stop. Instead, he led police on a short pursuit before pulling over.

When the vehicle stopped, police then said they smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle and ordered the driver and three passengers to exit the vehicle while they searched them and the car. Miller took off running with police in pursuit. Police said Miller opened fire on them as they pursued him. They returned fire.

Shortly thereafter, police found Miller dead in a wooded area. A handgun was found on him, police said.

The driver and the other two passengers were charged with marijuana possession, and the driver was cited for the tinted window violation. All three had prior drug arrests, and Miller also had an arrest history, but it wasn't clear what offenses he had been charged with.

The police officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Hanahan, SC
United States

New Hampshire Cops Kill Man Fleeing Drug Sting

An undercover drug bust in a Weare, New Hampshire, shopping mall Wednesday night ended with the target of the bust shot to death as he attempted to flee. The as yet unidentified victim is the 25th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Concord Monitor and a press release from the state attorney general's office, several Weare police officers and two confidential informants were outside Dunkin' Donuts in Lanctot's Plaza on US Highway 114 doing a drug sting on the target, a suspected heroin dealer.

When officers attempted to detain the man, he tried to flee. Two officers then opened fire, wounding the man as he sped off in his vehicle. He made it about one hundred yards before crashing near an ice cream stand along the highway. He was taken by ambulance to a Manchester Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police have not said why they opened fire. They have not claimed that the man was shooting or pointing a gun at them, or even if a weapon was recovered. They have not claimed he was trying to run them over and they feared for their lives. And they have not mentioned the seizure of any drugs.

The attorney general's office said the investigation into the killing was "ongoing."

Weare, NH
United States

Indianapolis Drug Suspect Dies After Being Tased

An Indianapolis man targeted by police in a drug investigation died Thursday night after a struggle as police attempted to arrest him. The as yet unidentified man becomes the 24th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Indianapolis Star, citing police sources, the incident on the city's Eastside occurred when the man attempted to flee officers seeking to arrest him. Police said the man fell while fleeing, then resisted as officers attempted to arrest him. One officer then shot him with a Taser "to subdue him."

The man then grew unresponsive, and was soon pronounced dead.

Police said they think the man may have swallowed drugs during the chase. The death is being investigated by Indianapolis police internal affairs and homicide detectives.

Police later called members of the Ten Point Coalition, an anti-violence outreach group, to the crime scene. The coalition is typically called to chaotic crime scenes to calm down family members and friends of the victim, the Star reported.

Update: The dead man was later identified as Jeffrey Lilly, 22, of Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Star also reported that neighbors and family members came to the scene and "threatened and taunted" investigating officers before being dispersed.

Indianapolis, IN
United States

De Facto Hash Truce in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

The Lebanese government will not attempt to eradicate marijuana fields blooming across the country's Bekaa Valley, Beirut's Daily Star newspaper reported Friday. Sources cited by the Star said it was because of the fragile security situation in the area near the border with Syria and because the government had been unable to live up to pledges to provide financial compensation to farmers whose crops were destroyed last year.

marijuana field, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (wikimedia.org)
They are also up against Bekaa Valley marijuana farmers in no mood to see their livelihood messed with.

"In the absence of alternatives, we will break the hands and legs of anyone who dares destroy our crops," one of the region's biggest growers, Ali Nasri Shamas, told the Daily Star. "We will not be gentle with [the security forces] like we usually are," added Shamas, who is wanted on several arrest warrants, including on a charge of attacking the Army. "It will be a full-blown war if necessary."

This after last year's eradication effort led to clashes between would-be eradicators and farmers armed with rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. Those clashes, which resulted in the destruction of bulldozers hired by the government to plow under pot fields, ended only when the government promised to pay compensation to farmers. That didn't happen. The Finance Ministry said it didn't have the money.

This year, although the Higher Defense Council had fighting drug cultivation on the agenda this week, sources told the Daily Star that a "tacit agreement" last month between government officials and local leaders from the Baalbek-Hermel region in the northern Bekaa meant that eradication efforts weren't going to happen this year.

"The Army is exhausted by the roving security incidents and the farmers are poor and angry," said a political source. "Everyone wants to avoid a major confrontation with the military. No one wants carnage."

The Syrian civil war raging next door has led to repeated clashes inside Lebanon, especially since the open involvement of Hezbollah members in the fighting earlier this year. The Bekaa Valley is also a Hezbollah stronghold.

Lebanese hash provided funding for feuding militias in the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990, and grew into a multi-billion dollar industry before the government cracked down under international pressure in the late 1990s. But its eradication campaigns have often generated violent clashes, and promised alternative development schemes have failed to materialize.

Now, the marijuana fields are back in a big war. The Daily Star described roads in the Bekaa Valley "lined with dark green cannabis fields."

This year's pot crop would be "wonderful," Shamas said. "We moved from 5,000 dunums of cannabis-cultivated land to 45,000 dunums," he said. (A dunum is about a quarter of an acre.) There is no shortage of dealers to buy the resulting hashish, he said, adding that it was destined for markets in Egypt, Turkey, and Europe.

While Shamas reveled in his anti-government outlaw status, other marijuana farmers said they had few other options. "We have no other choice," said Abu Asaad from Yammouneh. "Our region is highly poor and neglected and I prefer planting cannabis to turning into a bandit or a car thief."

The farmers scoffed at international aid and alternative development programs, saying they had been a bad joke.

"It's high time international donors realize that their money is not spent to devise tangible agricultural policies, but rather goes straight to the pockets of officials," Abu Asaad said. "Eradication campaigns are carried out at our expense and used to secure more funds, which will surely be embezzled."

Meanwhile, to save face, Lebanese authorities may do some Potemkin eradication.

"The police and Army might destroy a small plot of land where cannabis is grown in the next few weeks just to demonstrate that they have not dropped the ball on the matter, but I totally rule out a large-scale campaign," a source told the Daily Star.

Lebanon

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