Raw video: Sheriff's Office interview on fatal SWAT raid
This week, KGUN9 News reporter Joel Waldman interviewed Pima Co. Sheriff's Department Lt. Michael O'Connor about the shooting of Jose Guerena, who died last week when a SWAT team tried to serve a search warrant at his Tucson home. The victim's wife Vanessa has stated that neither she nor her husband knew that the people breaking into her home were deputies. She said that her husband, who pointed a rifle at deputies, was only trying to defend himself. Guarena never got off a shot. But SWAT team members fired a total of at least 71 rounds, leaving the home riddled with holes. Ms. Guerena was hiding in a closet at the time with one of the couple's children. Neither was hurt.
A clip of raw video from that interview is presented in the Video Gallery at left. Below are selected quotes from the interview.
O'Connor: "This case involves a narcotics conspiracy case, which means that we are looking for a lot of different narcotics related material. That can be drug ledgers, scales, anything that would be in furtherance of this narcotics conspiracy. And it involved all four residents that we were looking at in that quarter mile of so of each other."
O'Connor: "We did find things that we were asking for in that. It may have been drug ledgers, narcotics paraphernalia, any other connecting material between the residences. Those things were found, in addition to a large sum of money. Somewhat larger that what you would expect to find in anyone's home."
Waldman: "Can you say if that was the residence where the shooting happened?"
O'Connor: "No, it was one of the four, but it was not that residence."
Waldman: "In that specific residence, did you find anything related to drugs, drug money, in that specific residence."
O'Connor: "We found information that was pertinent to this drug conspiracy case, yes. I'm not going to go into details on what those things were. But it was connecting material to the drug conspiracy."
O'Connor: "As many of you might know, Tucson is somewhat notorious for home invasions. Sometimes home invasions look a lot like a narcotics search warrant. That's what the key to these things is. We want to make sure we re not looking like any other home invaders. The way that we keep that from happening is that we will have a lot police vehicles there, with their lights and their sirens on. In this case, the SWAT team was serving, because it was a narcotics high risk type of a search warrant, so we had our large armored vehicle there with the markings on it. It also has lights and sirens, it was going. So we do everything we can to portray the image that we are law enforcement, we are not home invaders. Because these people are involved in narcotics conspiracy cases, they are used to seeing other people get home invaded, so we want to do everything we can to keep that from happening."
Waldman: "There were some reports out there that this was I guess what some law enforcement would call a no-knock entry. Did you announce yourselves as law enforcement officers?"
O'Connor: "Absolutely. Those are very specific cases when it's a no-knock warrant. This was not a no-knock warrant. This case was, we came in very high profile, lights and sirens. We go to the door, we pound on the door. We wait approximately 15 seconds. If no one answers the door, we breach the door with a heavy tool and open the door. As soon as we opened the door, we were confronted with an individual that was in a crouched position, pointing at them with an AR 15 military assault rifle, and saying -- I'm gonna quote what he said -- 'I've got something for you.' Then they engaged this individual who was pointing the weapon at them."
Waldman: "So it's your, it's the Pima County Sheriff's Department position, that this individual who was shot and killed was well aware of who he was targeting?"
O'Connor: "Well, I'm not going to begin to think what was going through his mind. What I can tell you is what precipitated this. And that was, law enforcement in uniform responding to the scene in marked police cars, with marked police cars not only with their lights going, but also with their sirens going. And then not just one, but several of those. So I can't explain what was going through his mind when this happened. What I can tell you is what we did to make this as safe a situation as we could."
O'Connor: "It appears that it was 71 rounds were fired."
Waldman: "Someone on the street might perceive that as excessive force. In your opinion as a law enforcement officer, was it?"
O'Connor: "No, it's not, for a couple of reasons. One, this was an operation being conducted by SWAT members. They have special weapons when they're doing this. Also, where this occurred: There were five officers at the door beginning to make entry into this home, when they engaged this individual that they believed was actually firing at them. They're going to fire until that threat is no longer. And in this case, they fired those rounds in approximately seven seconds. So, it may sound like it's a high number. But when you have five officers firing semi-automatic weapons, that can be done in less than seven seconds, and that's what happened in this case."
O'Connor: "Part of what was going on is that this house, the interior of this house is, the walls are somewhat darker color. The roof is painted a very dark color. So when the officers came in, they saw they were confronted with a very dark room. This individual was in a hallway looking right at them, crouched with a weapon. When they saw this and the weapon coming up and he made that statement, some of the officers began to fire that are in this cone -- right at the front door -- began to fire. Some of the officers hit the door frame and there was splintering at the door frame as they were firing. This was falling on some of the other officers. One of the officers has a shield, and when he fired, he starts to fall backwards. Some of the officers thought that officer had been shot, and were starting to drag him out of the fray. So this was a very dynamic scene, a very dangerous situation for the officers that were there, and obviously dangerous for the victim, this individual who was shot, who brought this all on himself by presenting himself the way he did. There is no way around it. We have to serve search warrants. It's a part of our job. We do the best we can of making it apparent that this is what we are doing. But sometimes people have reasons for doing what they do. I can't explain it."
O'Connor: "The neighbors have been interviewed.... They said that the lights and sirens were on. Were they actually on? Did the neighbors hear that? This has been consistent. The neighbors said they heard the officers yelling, screaming, 'Police! Sheriff's Department!' Lights sirens... We'll take this case to the County Attorney's office."
O'Connor: "We thought that the wife was going to be gone with the two children to school. As it turns out, only one went to school, and the other one was still in the house with the mother. That's something we try to anticipate, we try to make it as safe as possible. In this case, she was still there."