Perception: The Difference Between Heroes and Villains

The Pima County (Ariz.) Sheriff's Department's May 5 SWAT raid resulted in the death of a Marine at home in front of his family. This tragedy has exploded into one of the most criticized, controversial SWAT incidents in memory.

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M Ariz Swa Traid

Most Americans would agree that the mission into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden was accomplished by true American warrior heroes β€” U.S. Spec Ops led by Navy SEAL Team Six.

Meanwhile, back in America, there's another ongoing war seemingly without end β€” the war on crime. And just as Spec Ops spearhead the U.S. military in the war on terror, SWAT spearheads American LE on the war on crime.

For both military Spec Ops and police SWAT, high-risk raids or searches are considered a tactical mainstay. Here are a few recent examples:

The Putnam County (Fla.) Sheriff's Department's SWAT conducted a high-risk warrant service on a trailer home on May 4. Two female occupants opened fire on SWAT, striking and critically wounding a deputy in the arm and shoulder, missing his ballistic vest. His life was saved by the on-scene medic. One suspect was shot and wounded (critical) and the other surrendered without further incident.

The Canton (Ohio) PD's SWAT conducted a high-risk warrant service on a residence on May 6. A 62-year-old male occupant attempted to escape through a second-floor window, pointing his firearm at SWAT containment. The suspect then went back inside, shot at SWAT entry officers. SWAT shot and killed the suspect with return fire. One entry officer was struck by a bullet fragment, possibly fired by containment personnel. Other suspects were arrested without incident.

In Olympia, Wash., a multi-jurisdictional tactical unit conducted a high-risk warrant service on June 6. A bullet from a male occupant struck a SWAT entry officer in the arm and then hit his ballistic vest. The suspect surrendered without further incident.

And lastly, Pima County (Ariz.) Sheriff's Department's SWAT officers conducted a high-risk warrant service on a residence on May 5. A second warrant service was also conducted simultaneously that morning. The tragedy that happened next has exploded into one of the most criticized, controversial SWAT incidents in memory. 

Pre-raid intel included involvement in home invasions, weapons, and body armor. The occupants included a recently discharged Iraq combat veteran U.S. Marine, his wife and young child. The Marine was home after working the night shift at his job in a mine.

PCSD SWAT knocked and announced, and then forced entry into the residence. Almost immediately, SWAT was confronted by the Marine, who pointed an AR-15 at them. Believing they were under fire, SWAT fired 71 bullets in a matter of seconds. The team went into barricaded subject mode.

Meanwhile, the wife called 911 to get medical help for her husband, Jose Guerena. She and two children eventually emerged unhurt from inside the home. A remote robot discovered Guerena dead with the AR-15 laying nearby.

The public and media outcry was immediate and massive β€” all of it condemning PCSD and especially SWAT. The public and media demanded answers. PCSD gave the standard response that the incident is still under investigation; this only fanned the flames of criticism further. And soon, the PCSD sheriff and a Tucson TV station were trading verbal barbs at each other.

Ultimately, PCSD released its findings, including video of the SWAT entry and shooting and its 500-page report. For many, it was too little, too late. The damage was already done, especially on the Internet where the PCSD video has gone viral, and was accompanied by widespread condemnation.

Clearly, there's a vast gap in public and media opinion about how to view the Navy SEAL OBL raid compared to the PCSD SWAT raid. The Navy SEALs are universally portrayed as heroes; the SEALs are getting the benefit of the doubt and rightfully so. In stark contrast, PCSD gets no such benefit of the doubt, while being wrongly portrayed by many as villains.

I strongly suspect PCSD SWAT officers are the same as the overwhelming majority of LEOs everywhere β€” dedicated, honorable professionals sworn to uphold the law. Many are married with children. And many, especially in SWAT, are military combat veterans.

What happened in Arizona on May 5 is a tragedy for all involved. Who gets the benefit of the doubt will largely depend not necessarily on the truth itself, but on the perception of that truth. And we need to remember there are two sides to this tragic story.

Which side do we believe? The one we feed.


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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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