TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Exactly what happened during the very few seconds between the time a SWAT team broke down Jose Guerena's door, and shooting erupted?
The latest release of information shows that when one SWAT officer saw Guerena standing in the hall swinging a gun in the team's direction, he did not wait to see what would happen next. The officer opened fire. The new information also shows that the team was confused about what was going on, and mistakenly believed that Guerena also had opened fire.
The release contains new evidence photos showing some of the things investigators say they found in the raid on Jose Guerena's house; such as the assault rifle under his mattress and the body armor found in his garage.
But most of the controversy has centered on the way the SWAT team fired on Guerena.
Team members agree that Guerena was waiting for them in the hall holding an assault rifle when they broke open the door. Originally they said he fired at them.
In debriefings with detectives, the one SWAT member who went in armed with a rifle that day said he saw a man in the hallway holding a rifle. The officer said that he did not wait for that man to fire first.
He said, "…as soon as I saw the male suspect come from that direction he yelled something. At that point I began firing my weapon at the suspect."
On closer questioning, that officer told detectives, "…whether at that point he actually had raised the rifle up...I couldn't..."
The interview was conducted via audio, with no video, but the officer was making gestures at the time. The investigating detective described those gestures out loud for the benefit of anyone who might need to listen to the recording. "You're making a motion like he's bringing a rifle up on you," the detective said.
Then the rifleman then answer, "Absolutely, absolutely."
In other words, the SWAT member who opened fire is describing to the detective who is debriefing him, with gestures, his observation that Guerena had begun to swing his weapon in the direction of the SWAT team members.
The SWAT member holding the shield at the door said he saw a muzzle flash. The detective asks: "Where was the muzzle flash?"
The shield holder replies: "Directed right towards us."
One of the team assigned to break open the door says, "They were coming from basically, the front door, but directly straight back from the front door."
"I'm seeing the muzzle, from the muzzle flash from inside the house, coming, you know, towards us."
The other officer assigned to break open the door turned away as the door swung open.
The detective asks: "So at that point you breached the door, you turned around, you turned around you're facing the team and the gunfire is coming at your back from...."
Detective: "Inside the house?"
And the team commander says, "Immediately I saw a muzzle flash and gunfire or heard gunfire."
And that Guerena, "Raised the rifle and pointed it towards us and fired multiple times."
Some of the officers said that in opening up on Guerena, they were returning fire.
Shortly after the shooting, the Sheriff's Department said that Guerena had fired on the SWAT team and that the team had returned that fire. A few days later the department issued a correction, saying that Guerena had not fierd, but that the team had opened fire on Guerena when Guerena pointed his rifle at them.
Documents released Friday show Guerena's rifle was examined immediately after the shooting. Deputies found that it was ready to fire, but that the safety was still on and that no rounds had been expended.
It's hard to know for sure why SWAT members stated so firmly they felt Guerena had fired on them. Their attorney has suggested that they may have seen reflections from their own muzzle flashes and, in the confusion, thought those flashes had come from Guerena's weapon. The fact that one of the officers stumbled and fell right after the shooting erupted added to that impression; officers at first thought their teammate had been hit by gunfire from Guerena.
Video taken during the raid shows that only a few seconds elapsed between the time SWAT members broke down Guerena's door, and the shooting erupted. Once the team saw Guerena standing there with a gun, events moved very quickly.
Confusion about exactly what is going on during a shooting situation is not uncommon. It happens often enough that military experts have a phrase for it -- "fog of war." But that one officer's testimony that he opened fire on seeing Guerena swinging a gun in the direction of the SWAT team is consistent with the revised statement from the Sheriff's Department issued May 9.
In the debriefing, the SWAT team members also describe shouting commands identifying themselves as police before breaking down the door.
The incident has led to an emotional community debate about whether the shooting was justified. Guerena's wife Vanessa told KGUN9 News that she and her husband did not know who was breaking down their door. Some critics have suggested that the use of a SWAT team to serve search warrants such as this one is not necessary and represents an over-militarization of the police.
On Thursday Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik told KGUN9 News anchor Jennifer Waddell that the use of the SWAT team to serve this search warrant was justified given the nature of the drug conspiracy of which Guerena was suspected of being a part. The sheriff said that the SWAT team did what it had to do when it encountered Guerena pointing a gun in the team's direction, and that anyone who does such a thing can expect similar results. The sheriff added that law abiding citizens have no reason to fear confrontation with police officers.
In: Regional News
Tags: More, info, SWAT, team, believed, Jose, Guerena, had, opened, fire, US, Marine, Tucson, Arizona,
Location: Tucson, Arizona, United States (load item map)
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