Pubdate: Wed, 30 Dec 2015
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2015 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Dane Schiller
Page: B1


A federal appeals court has agreed to hear oral arguments in the case 
of a Texan suing the Drug Enforcement Administration for using his 
18-wheeler without permission for a drug cartel sting that ended in 
Houston with an informant fatally shot while driving the truck.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based 
in New Orleans, is scheduled to take the case in February.

Lawyers for Craig Patty are hoping the court will reverse a decision 
by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal that Patty should get nothing 
from the DEA for secretly using his truck, which was shot with 
bullets, including those that killed Lawrence Chapa, who was behind the wheel.

Chapa, who worked for Patty's trucking company, was secretly working 
as a DEA informant in 2011 when he drove a load of marijuana from the 
Rio Grande Valley to Houston in coordination with law-enforcement 
officers, who were covertly trailing him. They were to sweep in and 
make arrests when the load reached its destination. Instead it was 
intercepted in broad daylight by cartel attackers. In the ensuing 
confusion, a plainclothes Houston Police officer also shot and 
wounded a plainclothes Harris County sheriff 's deputy.

Patty contends in his civil suit that the government should not only 
pay for fixing the truck and the temporary loss of its use after the 
2011 shootout, but also for the emotional turmoil he and his family 
endured as they feared the notorious Los Zetas cartel would target them.

Patty had sought up to $6.4 million with the lawsuit but said from 
the start that his main goal was to shed light on the case and have 
the facts be known publicly. Many of the government's motions filed 
in the case were kept sealed to protect the secrecy of DEA operations.

The government basically contends that it needs discretion when it 
comes to fighting crime and that it needed to use Patty's truck.

"The government just absolutely totally violated Craig Patty's 
constitutional rights," Patty's lawyer Andy Vickery said. "If this 
case is affirmed, if the courts puts its imprimatur on this case, 
then all of us as citizens are subject to having our vehicles used at 
any time without our knowledge or approval by police who say 'heck, 
let's just use this car.' "

Vickery said the goal is to have the appeals court panel rule that 
the government can indeed be held liable for the full range of 
damages and then get the case sent back to the trial court for 
evidence to be heard and a decision on damages to be made.

Patty originally went public with his concerns about the government 
to send a message to the cartels that he and his family had no idea 
that Chapa was secretly working for the DEA and trying to set up a 
drug bust. Patty also spoke of his frustration at the government's 
actions not only in putting him and his family through emotional 
turmoil, but also in refusing to provide any answers as to what it 
had been doing or to pay for repairs to his truck. He was told to 
come pick up the truck, which had bullet holes in it as well as blood 
splattered inside the cab from Chapa's death. Patty said he was even 
threatened with impound fees if he didn't come get the truck.

He has said he suspects the government is interested in not just 
hiding how it conducts drug operations, but in this instance, what went wrong.

"How am I - a small businessman, father of three, American Joe from 
Texas - supposed to make a claim against a federal agency that has 
conveniently shrouded itself behind a red, white and blue cloak of 
confidentiality and secrecy?" he said.
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