Pubdate: Sat, 22 Dec 2001
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Austin American-Statesman
Author: Jonathan Osborne


Sheriff Says 19-Year-Old Was Unarmed And Asleep Before Deputy Shot Him

Antonio Martinez wasn't the target of Thursday's drug raid in Del Valle, 
and he wasn't armed when a deputy fired the single shot that killed him, 
Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier said Friday.

Instead, she said, the 19-year-old had been asleep on a couch when the SWAT 
team rammed open the front door and stormed the mobile home in Southeast 
Travis County.

The death of an unarmed man wasn't the only problem that morning: Deputies 
didn't find the stockpile of automatic weapons they were looking for -- or 
any guns at all. Instead, Frasier said, they found one bullet and about 
$55,000 worth of cocaine and methamphetamine.

And the unidentified officer who shot Martinez -- the sheriff's office has 
refused to name him -- had been with Deputy Keith Ruiz during a drug raid 
in February when the 36-year-old husband and father was shot and killed.

Now, the deputy is on administrative leave and at the center of an internal 
investigation that involves the Texas Rangers.

"To me, it's either an accident . . . or a situation where the officer felt 
he was in danger," Frasier said. "I'm not sure which it was. At this point, 
there is the possibility that a mistake was made."

Once the sheriff's office finishes the investigation, the report will be 
turned over to a Travis County grand jury, which is standard procedure in 
such cases. Sheriff's spokesman Roger Wade said the officer's name was 
withheld because he is "a material witness in an investigation."

Neither the SWAT team nor the Capital Area Drug Task Force -- a five- 
county team that assisted in both the Thursday and February raids -- has 
any more narcotics raids scheduled in the near future, Wade said. But 
"there's not been an official halting" of the raids in light of the 
investigation, he said.

Regardless of what the department and the Rangers find in their 
investigation, the new facts about what happened Thursday morning have 
angered at least one police watchdog group that already has called the 
surprise raids unnecessary and too dangerous.

"Even if they insist on conducting these searches, the written policies 
these officers followed need to be compared to national standards," said 
Ann del Llano, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union Texas 
Police Accountability Project.

"The question has to be asked, 'If this is unjustified, what are we going 
to do about it?' " del Llano said. "What we've seen in the past is . . . 
nothing. But if we're losing officers and citizens, at least we can revisit 
our policies."

The sheriff's office changed the way it carries out narcotics raids after 
Ruiz was shot while trying to break down the door of Edwin Delamora's Del 
Valle mobile home on Feb. 15. Delamora, 21, is charged with capital murder 
in the Ruiz slaying.

The department now doubles the number of officers who participate in raids 
- -- from six to 12 -- stations paramedics nearby and maps out a helicopter 
landing area in case STAR Flight is needed.

Since Ruiz's death, the teams had carried out 25 raids without incident.

But the new precautions didn't prevent a bloody outcome Thursday.

The target of the raid was 28-year-old Arturo Alvarez, who has a criminal 
history that includes attempted murder and aggravated assault, Frasier 
said. A confidential informant had tipped off the department that he was 
dealing cocaine and methamphetamine from the home, as well as stockpiling 
automatic weapons.

"This was a dangerous individual," Frasier said.

Through the informant, she said, deputies also learned that getting to 
Alvarez wouldn't be easy -- he had equipped the manufactured home with 
surveillance cameras, including one trained on the front door -- and 
catching him off guard was important.

Thursday's early morning operation, Frasier said, was a by-the-book, 
no-knock raid that unfolded like this:

As the SWAT team set off a flash bomb in the yard as a distraction, 
deputies pried open the home's locked storm door and used a battering ram 
to break open the front door.

Nine deputies -- all armed, but not all with guns drawn -- then entered the 
residence and announced they were police and had a search warrant.

As one of the deputies headed toward the master bedroom, where Frasier said 
they believed the drugs were kept, he encountered Martinez, a relative who, 
incidentally, was wanted for burglarizing a nearby convenience store.

"He was asleep on the couch, and he raised up," Frasier said. The deputy 
fired once, she said, and the bullet struck Martinez in the chest. Once the 
home was secured, Martinez was given immediate attention and airlifted to 
the emergency room.

He was dead by the time the helicopter landed at Brackenridge Hospital.

Deputies arrested Alvarez and continued searching the home. According to a 
search warrant filed at the Travis County Courthouse, they found about 540 
grams of cocaine and 222 grams of methamphetamine, as well as a bullet for 
an automatic weapon.

At the time of the raid, there were three children and four adults in the 
home, including Martinez.

"I feel very sorry for the Martinez family," Frasier said. "It's a horribly 
sad thing to have anyone go through."

Still, Frasier said, the raids and the teams that carry them out are 
necessary to get drugs off the street.

"That is where we knew the narcotics were, and that's the reason we were 
out there," Frasier said. "Obviously, this was not the way we intended for 
these things to happen."

The unidentified deputy, a 12-year-veteran with an exemplary track record, 
is "extremely upset," Frasier said. "No officer wants to take another 
person's life."
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