When Facts Won't Satisfy the LE Critics

After weeks of public and media scrutiny, the actions of the Pima County (Ariz.) Sheriff's SWAT unit were officially ruled "justifiable and reasonable." However, the fallout over the raid is far from over, because many people's minds were made up before the facts were known.

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M Ariz Swa Traid 1

The Pima County (Ariz.) Sheriff's SWAT raid that resulted in the shooting of a combat veteran and former Marine stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy with widespread criticism and condemnation of the tactical team.

Reading media and internet coverage of the May 5 raid may create the impression that the action was unwarranted overkill at the hands of an out-of-control Pima County SWAT team.

After weeks of public and media scrutiny, SWAT's actions were officially ruled "justifiable and reasonable." Additional information released portrays the former Marine in a very different light. A quick check of the Web indicates a dramatic, sudden decrease in the amount of anti-PCSD SWAT articles and comments.

Might this be due to speculation finally being replaced by facts? Therein lies an increasingly alarming problem. The rush to judgment โ€” even before the facts are known โ€” is fueled by speculation, guesswork and supposition. 

This can be dangerous, because the officers are pre-judged based on what people assume rather than what they know. The advent of cellphone video has helped launch people's judgment into uncharted territory, because people believe what they see with their own eyes. Are they seeing what really happened? Or are they getting only a partial view?

Recently released video of the entry shows SWAT's arrival, approach, and knock-and-announce entry followed by numerous, rapid gunshots.

What's not shown is who SWAT was shooting at or why they never made it past the entry point before the shooting erupted. All anyone knew in the beginning was that the officers had fired 71 bullets, which was widely condemned as overkill.

The agency attempted to explain that SWAT had been confronted by former Marine Jose Guerena, who pointed an AR-15 at them, which caused them to fire in self-defense. Why so many bullets? It was initially thought SWAT was fired upon until it was revealed that the AR-15's safety was on. This fanned the flames of speculation even more.

The fallout over this raid is far from over, because many people's minds were made up before the facts were known. The once-standard "no comment" response is long gone. Now, "under investigation" appears to be headed toward the same fate.

Anybody familiar with law enforcement agencies knows that officers involved in critical incidents are prohibited by departmental policy from talking publicly. We don't get to hear their side of the story.

We seem to be living in a time when whoever takes the offense and gets their version of the story out first forces the other side to have to defend itself against the accusations.

Today's reality is that the public, media, and critics increasingly want to know right away. Is this logical or even feasible in today's instant communication world? Conversely, what obligation do people and the media have while the facts of a situation are still being sorted out?

The reality is that investigations into complex, involved incidents require thoroughness and thoughtfulness to arrive at the truth of what happened.  In this case, the Pima County sheriff was widely viewed as ducking, stalling or hiding something. 

Now that the PCSD has released an in-depth, 500-page report and video of the initial approach, entry and shooting, what will satisfy the critics? Should knee-jerk response supersede proper, thorough investigations?

Let's all remind ourselves that people, including SWAT officers, are innocent until proven guilty.


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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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