Guest Commentary

Pima Republicans should be standing behind Brian Miller regarding Jose Guerena, not throwing him under the bus

After a 20-month investigation, the Pima County Sheriff's Department simultaneously served search warrants at four residences of people who were suspected of possessing items used to distribute and sell illegal drugs.

One of the residences was the home of Jose and Vanessa Guerena. Jose bled to death on the floor of his home, in front of his wife and 4-year-old son, after being shot by law-enforcement officers. No drug equipment was found, nor was anything else illegal located.

I'm sorry, I should not have mentioned that nothing was found, because that fact is irrelevant. Much has been made of the fact that Jose Guerena was an honorably discharged U.S. Marine combat veteran, and much has been made of the fact that his relatives appear to be drug dealers. An American's rights are not enhanced by military service, nor can they be erased by suspicions of illegal activity. We all have the same rights under the law, until they do that "due process" thing.

Of course, it's useful for law enforcement to know beforehand whether or not the people living at a residence have a history of criminal violence before they serve a warrant. Fortunately, Jose Guerena was a family man who had a job and a past free of crime and violence ... so they sent a SWAT team.

The "War on Drugs" has ramped up the use of these SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams. What makes the weapons and tactics "special" is that they are normally associated with military operations rather than law enforcement.

This is a problem, the seriousness of which cannot be overstated. The mission of the police is to help people defend themselves against force and fraud. The mission of the military is to kill people and break things abroad. Take a look at the video released by the PCSD. Does it look more like a police action in Tucson or a military operation in Faluja?

Brian Miller, chairman of the Pima County Republican Party, understood the implications of this raid, and he began calling for a discussion and review of PCSD policy regarding the use of SWAT. He received support from Ken Rineer of the Pima County Republican Liberty Caucus, but few others.

Republican District 26 state Rep. Terri Proud actually sent out an e-mail in which she called for Brian Miller's resignation. Five Republican members of the state Legislature from Pima County sent a letter to precinct committeemen disavowing Miller and his work on this issue. Finally, in a recent emergency meeting of the Pima County Republican Central Committee, Miller was stripped of virtually all of his responsibilities as chairman.

The anti-Millerites may be justified in their disappointment in Miller as a county chairman, but why attack him when he steps up to the plate? Why aren't Frank Antenori, Al Melvin, et al., all over the media making the point that Raul Grijalva, Isabel Garcia and their fellow travelers aren't front-and-center on this? The only ones who seem to care about the questionable police killing of a man with a Spanish surname is a couple of Anglo Republicans.

Sheriff Clarence Dupnik did little to allay the concerns of Brian Miller. In an interview with KGUN Channel 9, he declined to speculate whether or not Guerena was involved in his relative's home-invasion murder, saying it would be "unprofessional." Moments later, he made the wild speculation that the only reason Guerena did not fire his rifle was that he "forgot" the safety was on—an unlikely scenario for a Marine combat veteran. Dupnik also engaged in some unprofessional mind-reading when he stated that Guerena thought they were there to arrest him. I suppose that if they had any evidence of his active involvement in criminal activity, it would have been an arrest warrant, not merely a search warrant.

The questions remain: Did Jose Guerena have to die? Was a military-style assault the best way to serve a search warrant? Should militarized units be used for routine police work?

Brian Miller was correct in drawing attention to these issues as Pima County Republican Party chairman. His fellow Republicans should have made a priority of helping our community, our law-enforcement agencies and their own party by dealing with Miller's shortcomings separately.

About The Author

Jonathan Hoffman

Jonathan Hoffman moved to Tucson from Connecticut in 1977 and never looked back. He attended the UA, ran for City Council Ward III in 2001, and made regular contributions to the Guest Commentary section of the Tucson Weekly for over five years. He helped launch the Southern Arizona News Examiner. He is a former...
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