Pubdate: Fri, 14 Feb 2003
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2003 San Antonio Express-News
Author: Rick Casey
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


Given that Drug Enforcement Administration officials already have said
14-year-old Ashley Villarreal caused her own death, we shouldn't hold our
breath for that agency's investigation into the tragedy.

Can't police agencies learn to at least pretend they are conducting a
thorough investigation before declaring their agents free of blame?

The problem is, when juries get to examine all the facts, they often

Take the case of David Aguilar of Three Points, Ariz., a small town outside

Aguilar wasn't 14, but 44. He had moved with his family from Tucson to get
his children away from drugs and gangs. One afternoon in 1997, two days
after local authorities distributed fliers and held a neighborhood meeting
warning that a drug offender had moved nearby, Aguilar saw a strange man
parked outside his house.

Aguilar's family says he went out and asked the man what he was doing. When
he got no answer he returned to his house and grabbed a gun. He told his son
he just wanted to scare the guy.

The man in the car, James Laverty, denied Aguilar had previously approached
him. He said he told Aguilar he was a police officer. In fact, he was a
rookie DEA agent conducting routine surveillance of the road, not of Aguilar
or his home. 

Laverty, 27, said he thought he heard a gunshot as he tried to pull away,
then fired 11 shots in self defense before speeding off. 

Aguilar died of a gunshot wound to the chest.

Both the DEA and local law enforcement authorities sided with Laverty. But
when the family brought the facts to a jury through a wrongful death
lawsuit, the jurors rejected the government's argument that Aguilar had been
engaged in felony aggravated assault.

They found Laverty 70 percent responsible and awarded the family $1.9
million. The judge reduced it to $1.4 million. The federal government
appealed and lost.

In 1992, the DEA joined Los Angeles County deputies and other members of a
task force in raiding the ranch of a millionaire on a marijuana warrant. The
61-year-old millionaire, who apparently was inebriated at the time of the
raid, grabbed his gun and reportedly pointed it at one of the deputies. The
deputy killed him.

Los Angeles authorities defended the deputy, but unfortunately for them they
had crossed the county line to conduct the raid. The Ventura County district
attorney investigated and found that the search warrant was unjustified. No
marijuana was found on the ranch, and a DEA agent's claim that he had seen
some plants during an overflight was not credible. 

The district attorney said he believed the deputies and agents were
motivated by an eagerness to seize the $5 million ranch under drug
forfeiture laws. They had obtained an appraisal of the land before
conducting the raid. 

The government later settled a lawsuit by the family. The federal government
paid $1 million and Los Angeles County paid $4 million.

In 2000, the DEA and a Modesto, Calif., SWAT team killed an 11-year-old boy
during a drug raid.

This time authorities didn't try to blame the victim.

Alberto Sepulveda was following orders to lie face down on the floor when an
officer's gun went off by accident. 

The family's lawsuit was settled for $2.55 million by the city and $450,000
by the federal government.

No drugs or weapons were found. The boy's father later pleaded guilty to
using a telephone to sell marijuana. He received probation.

The DEA also defended an agent in Brooklyn who fatally shot an unarmed man
in the back last year, claiming it was self-defense. 

But in a rare turn of events, the Brooklyn district attorney presented an
investigation to a state grand jury. That body indicted the agent for

The case was removed to federal court last month. If a judge finds the
officer was following proper procedures, the case will be dismissed.

But the case still may go before a jury. The family has filed a suit.
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