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Die in the Name of the Law

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The story has become routine: another drug shooting. But it was not drug dealers shooting each other or hitting innocent bystanders during a drive-by, no. It was cops killing an innocent person during a raid that had no business taking place at all.

The culprits were members of the Pima County Arizona sheriffs SWAT team. The victim was Jose Guerena Ortiz, a U.S. Marine veteran of the Iraq war, who was sleeping after a 12-hour shift working at a mine. It was a Saturday morning, and his four-year-old son wanted to watch cartoons.

According to the Associated Press story, it was an ordinary morning in May in an average middle-class neighborhood until the armored car pulled into the driveway of the Ortiz family home.

Ortiz, who did two tours in Iraq, was awakened by his wife, who said people were shooting outside (that sound turned out to be a flashbang). Not knowing what was happening, the 27-year-old veteran grabbed a rifle to protect his family. The SWAT agents opened fire with 71 rounds; 22 hit Ortiz.

According to the story, the agents did announce themselves as police they said right before the battering ram hit the door. Ten seconds later, Ortiz lay dying in a pool of his own blood.

Police said the shooting was justified because Ortiz was armed. The search warrant was executed because Ortiz was suspected of being involved in the illegal drug trade. Yet, no evidence of drug use was found, and, six months after the fatal raid, no one connected to Ortiz has been arrested. No one has been arrested for killing Ortiz.

Police said the shooting was justified because Ortiz came to the door carrying a weapon. But Ortiz was found 20 feet away from the door.

The whole idea of the raid was to serve a search warrant, according to a sheriffs investigator a search warrant served by SWAT personnel in full battle gear. They did not knock on the door with a polite, We have a search warrant. No, they gave just one knock, followed by a battering ram to the door and a hail of semiautomatic weapons fire.

The incident was recorded on a helmet camera worn by one of the SWAT agents.

The war on drugs, which has failed, and the war on terror which by its very nature is also doomed to failure have become nothing more than a war on us, we the people, and our natural rights to life and liberty.

Jose Guerena Ortiz and his family are just the latest individual victims of the drug war. Other families have been victimized this year, and more will be victimized until the federal and state governments get reasonable: you cant legislate what a person ingests and still maintain a free society.

Authorities in Atlanta are investigating a police shooting at a suspected drug house this November, a shooting in which an unarmed 54-year-old father of two was killed by police. The victim, Dwight Person, had gone to the house to visit a nephew.

Atlanta residents are still sensitive to such police shootings, after a 2006 incident in which police shot and killed a 92-year-old woman when police raided the wrong home.

An estimated 45 people have been killed in the drug war in the United States this year. That pales in comparison to the thousands who have been killed in Mexico, but the culprit in those deaths is the same: prohibition and the government-knows-best belief that violence and force are needed to keep people from intoxicating or medicating themselves with substances the government doesn’t approve of.

There is a $70 million lawsuit in the Ortiz killing, and the emotional reaction is that the family should get everything they can for what appears to be a grossly wrongful death. Its too bad that the good people of Pima County would have to foot the bill for what the sheriffs team did.

To be objective, we should acknowledge that Ortiz might have been involved in drug trafficking; but whatever evidence turns up now will be viewed with suspicion and without the suspect being able to mount a constitutionally guaranteed defense. What will be remembered is that a SWAT team shot down a former marine in front of his four-year-old son.

It didn’t have to happen that way. It shouldn’t have.

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    Rich Schwartzman is managing editor at Chadds Ford Live in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.