The family of a man killed in a barrage of gunfire during a SWAT raid at a home southwest of Tucson has settled a lawsuit with four police agencies involved in the operation.
The $3.4 million settlement with the family of Jose Guerena will end a two-year legal battle between his wife, Vanessa, and Pima County.
The settlement includes Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita, which had officers on the SWAT team, officials confirmed on Thursday.
Guerena, 26, was shot and killed by SWAT team members on May 5, 2011, when they raided his house.
The former Marine had been asleep after working a night shift and was awakened by his wife, who thought intruders were in the yard. He was holding an AR-15 rifle when he was shot.
A spokeswoman for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department disagreed with the decision to settle, but hinted a prolonged trial could wind up costing taxpayers even more.
“The Pima County Sheriff’s Department strongly believes the events of May 5, 2011, were unfortunate and tragic, but the officers performed that day in accordance with their training and nationally recognized standards,” Deputy Tracy Suitt wrote.
“However, legal advisers and insurers recognize the unpredictable resolution of disputes at trial regarding police conduct and even well-accepted police tactics. As a result, well-established business and insurance principles call for compromise and the resolution of disputed cases to mitigate risk and avoid the expense of a trial.”
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry called the agreement a “calculated risk-management settlement.”
The settlement is not an admission of any wrongdoing, Huckelberry said.
In total, Pima County and its excess insurance company agreed to pay the Guerena family a total of $2.35 million. The county carries additional insurance for large claims.
As part of the settlement agreement, the town of Marana will pay $720,000, Oro Valley will pay $260,000, and $100,000 will come from the town of Sahuarita.
Oro Valley Town Manager Greg Caton said the decision to approve the $260,000 payment was unanimous.
The town attorney for Sahuarita had no comment, and a Marana spokesperson did not return a phone call seeking comment.
County Supervisor Ramón Valadez said publicly that he had concerns about the case before the county was named in a lawsuit.
“I had some very serious concerns prior to the case coming to the board about whether or not this is something we should be doing,” Valadez said.
He was the lone supervisor to vote against the settlement of the Guerena case when it came before the board last week.
Supervisor Sharon Bronson did not attend last week’s meeting and had no comment about the settlement.
The shooting was a terrible, unfortunate situation costing taxpayers a huge amount of money, Supervisor Richard Elías said.
“It goes to show we have to be very careful on how we serve our search warrants and how we train officers from other jurisdictions,” he said.
An unsealed a grand jury indictment released shortly after the shooting alleges Guerena and some family members were part of a drug-trafficking organization. The raid was made as part of the investigation.
In May 2011, the Pima County Regional SWAT team raided four houses looking for items they believed could be linked to drug trafficking and home invasions, search warrants showed.
When the SWAT team knocked open the door at the Guerena home, officers said Jose Guerena was at the end of a hallway holding the rifle.
Guerena was asleep after working the graveyard shift at Asarco Mission Mine when the raid began, Guerena’s wife told investigators.
Five officers fired 71 shots, striking Guerena 22 times, Sheriff’s Department records show. His wife, Vanessa, and their 4-year-old son were not shot.
The lawsuit claimed the SWAT team acted negligently throughout the whole process, from the time the detective signed the search warrant to after the shooting, when officers waited more than a hour to give Jose Guerena medical treatment.
Peter Limperis, an attorney representing Vanessa Guerena, would not comment on the settlement agreement.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office cleared the officers of any wrongdoing in June, but the Guerena family pursued the civil case.
His brother, Alejandro Ortiz Guerena, pleaded guilty to attempted possession of marijuana for sale and conspiracy to commit money laundering in May.
He was arrested in Hermosillo, Sonora, in January and later was turned over to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
Police accused Guerena and his family of importing and selling more than 10,000 pounds of marijuana from 2005 to 2011, with sales of nearly $5 million.
Alejandro Guerena’s brother, Gerardo Guerena, is wanted by law enforcement for his role in a criminal organization but remains at large.
Alejandro Ortiz Guerena’s wife, Pauline Guerena, was sentenced in July to four years’ probation for money laundering for her role in what prosecutors said was a multimillion-dollar drug-importing ring.
Denise Ruiz, the sister-in-law of Alejandro Ortiz Guerena, was sentenced to five years’ probation and 105 days in the Pima County jail in July for her activities in the drug-smuggling organization.
Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4346. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFerguson.
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