You know that saying, “Possession is nine tenths of the law”? Apparently not if the defense is part of the federal government.
A federal judge, Lee Rosenthal, based out of Houston has ruled that the Drug Enforcement Agency is under no obligation to pay for a tractor trailer truck the agency commandeered in relation to a drug sting involving the Zeta Cartel, which was then heavily damaged in a organized attack from that cartel.
In November of 2011 the DEA was using a truck from a very small trucking business that consisted of a fleet of two trucks.
One of these drivers, Lawrence Chapa, had without the knowledge or permission of the owner of the company, Craig Patty, received payments to allow them to fill the truck up in Rio Grand Valley with marijuana and drive it to Houston where they would then sell the marijuana to members of the Zeta cartel, one of Mexico’s most violent cartels.
En route to the stop, an SUV full of cartel members opened fire on the truck causing over $130,000 worth of damage. Chappa was shot eight times and killed as over two dozen agents watched from the air and the ground at the chaos that they had helped create.
Craig Patty, the owner of the truck was then told roughly 17 hours later that the truck she thought was taken to the repair shop by her employee was actually being used in a botched drug sting that left her truck riddled in bullets and her employee dead.
The DEA never even bothered to figure out who owned the trucks before recruiting Chapa.
Patty was denied coverage by her insurance provider given the nature of the damage, and the DEA left her footing the bill.
This amounted to losing half of her business for months, resulting in substantial loss of income as repairs were made.
Patty sued for $6.2m seeking damages, lost wages, and pain and suffering as they new fear cartel retaliation, as 4 of their members were arrested in the raid.
The Government Argued that they owed nothing to Craig as they were “not responsible” for the damage and that they don’t have to inform the owner that they are using her property for their operation, saying:
“No statute, regulation, or policy “specifically prescribe[d]” or prohibited the course of action Patty alleges the DEA agents followed. The DEA derives its authority from the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 801, its implementing regulations, and various executive orders…
In this case, Task Force Officer Villasana submitted a similar declaration. He states that the DEA’s decision “to proceed with such an operation is entirely discretionary, and not mandated by any statute, rule, or policy.” Whether and how to conduct such an undercover investigation and operation is “necessarily discretionary in nature.” Villasana did not try to give advance notice to Patty that the Task Force would be using his truck because of operation’s covert nature, the risks of injury and potential for damage if something went wrong, and the uncertainty about whether other individuals (including Patty) could be trusted.”
In layman’s terms, the decision for a DEA task force to engage in covert operations at the expense of other people’s property is purely up to their discretion, and therefore not subject to any pre-existing policies and procedures, including getting permission of the owner of said property.
The very definition of making up the rules as you go along.
They would essentially tell Patty that she should try to sue the Zeta Cartel instead!
The government’s defense said:
“In any event, Patty fails to explain how these constitutional provisions specifically prescribed a different course of conduct or specifically proscribed what the officers did. The record shows that the DEA task force members did not know Patty’s name, were under the impression that his driver was the vehicle’s rightful lessee, and third parties caused the vehicle damage. To borrow a phrase from qualified immunity law, Patty has not shown that the “clearly established law” in place when the undercover operation was planned and implemented made the officers’ conduct unconstitutional. ”
And in true twilight zone fashion, the judge agreed.
Defense lawyer Andy Vickery is preparing an appeal to that ridiculous notion.
So to recap, it is legal for the government, for the purpose of “law enforcement,” to take your property without your knowledge or permission, destroy it and your livelihood with it, and not be held responsible for — leaving the owner of that property with no legal recourse.
Basically, law enforcement agencies are immune from being sued.
Add that to a long list of lost rights to the war on drugs. This truly helps to cement the fact that the government and its members are a separate class than John and Jane Q taxpayers.