Fourteen-year-old Ashley Villarreal of San Antonio died on February 11 after being shot in the head three days earlier by a DEA agent while driving away from her home. Outrage over the shooting is high in the city, according to various reports in the San Antonio Express News. While investigations into the killing are underway, DEA officials have already expressed their belief that the killing was justified.
Ashley Villarreal was the unintended victim of a DEA stake-out designed to catch her father, Joey Villarreal, whom the DEA suspected of involvement in cocaine sales. According to a San Antonio police spokesman, DEA agents in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles were watching the Villarreal residence when, shortly after dark, Ashley and an adult male got into a car and proceeded to drive away from the house without headlights on. "The agents say a man matching the description of the suspect got into the passenger side of a black Mitsubishi eclipse," police Sergeant Gabe Trevino told 1200 WOAI news. "A girl got into the driver's side of the vehicle, and when they started leaving without the headlights on, and at a high rate of speed, the agents felt certain that this was their suspect and he was trying to escape."
The man in the vehicle, David Robles, was not the DEA's suspect.
According to Trevino, DEA agents in unmarked vehicles boxed the car in, then stopped and attempted to arrest the man. "The agents in front were head on with the suspect vehicle, they got out wearing vests that very clearly said 'police' on it," Trevino said. "He clearly yelled that they were police and ordered the driver of the vehicle to stop and the occupants of the vehicle to show their hands."
According to Trevino, Ashley Villarreal continued to drive toward the approaching agents, at which point two DEA agents fired two shots each into the car, striking the girl in the back of the head. Trevino did not explain how a boxed-in car could continue to drive or how it became a threat to the narcs.
There are other questions and doubts about the police version of events. "The agents made it very clear to the people in the car that they were police, that they were agents," Trevino said. But David Robles told the Express News that as Ashley drove him away from the house, it appeared that they were being pursued by unknown assailants. Neither, said Robles, did the assailants identify themselves as law enforcement officers until after they shot into the trapped vehicle, fatally wounding the girl.
Robles' account was supported by "earwitnesses" who heard a crash and then shots. Manuel Martinez, who lives across the street from the shooting site, told the Express News he heard a crash followed by gunfire. "I heard them call to 'Stop! Don't move,'" he said. "I didn't hear them say they were policemen." Other witnesses cited by the Express News supported that account, raising the obvious question about what threat Ashley posed to the agents after her vehicle had already been stopped and boxed in.
Ashley's uncle, Peter Villarreal, echoed widespread community sentiment in calling her death unjustified. "She was killed because she committed a traffic violation," he said. "A 14-year-old girl," he added, "should not be buried on Valentine's Day."
DEA agent Bill Swierc has been named as the man who fired the fatal shots, and both the DEA and the San Antonio Police Department are investigating the killing. But as readers of this newsletter know, police shooters in drug cases are rarely bound over for prosecution.
We might as well be in Thailand.