DEA sting gone wrong violated Texas truck owner’s rights
Need a story to get you all fired up this morning? Looking for something to make you see red?
The phone rang before sunrise. It woke Craig Patty, owner of a tiny North Texas trucking company, to vexing news about Truck 793 — a big red semi supposedly getting repairs in Houston.
“Your driver was shot in your truck,” said the caller, a business colleague. “Your truck was loaded with marijuana. He was shot eight times while sitting in the cab. Do you know anything about your driver hauling marijuana?”
“What did you say?” Patty recalled asking. “Could you please repeat that?”
The truck, it turned out, had been everywhere but in the repair shop.
Commandeered by one of his drivers, who was secretly working with federal agents, the truck had been hauling marijuana from the border as part of an undercover operation. And without Patty’s knowledge, the Drug Enforcement Administration was paying his driver, Lawrence Chapa, to use the truck to bust traffickers.
The concept of private property? Completely ignored. Permission? We don’t need no stinkin’ permission. We’re the federal government. We’re the DEA.
But eight months later, Patty still can’t get recompense from the U.S. government’s decision to use his truck and employee without his permission.
His company, which hauls sand as part of hydraulic fracturing operations for oil and gas companies, was pushed to the brink of failure after the attack because the truck was knocked out of commission, he said.
Patty had only one other truck in operation.
In documents shared with the Houston Chronicle, he is demanding that the DEA pay $133,532 in repairs and lost wages over the bullet-sprayed truck, and $1.3 million more for the damage to himself and his family, who fear retaliation by a drug cartel over the bungled narcotics sting.
Out of control? That’s a vast understatement. This is like Fast and Furious Jr. Who thought this up? Who approved it? Why didn’t they seek the permission and cooperation of the owner of the business and property? Where in the world do they get off commandeering private property and endangering the life and livelihood of a citizen without seeking his okay to use his property?
The operation was a fiasco:
At least 17 hours before that early morning phone call, Chapa was shot dead in front of more than a dozen law enforcement officers – all of them taken by surprise by hijackers trying to steal the red Kenworth T600 truck and its load of pot.
In the confusion of the attack in northwest Harris County, compounded by officers in the operation not all knowing each other, a Houston policeman shot and wounded a Harris County sheriff’s deputy.
17 hours before the owner of the truck was notified and that notification didn’t come from either the police or the DEA. The only thing the DEA didn’t commandeer for this operation was a clown car. Said Patty:
"I was not part of this," he said. "I had absolutely no knowledge of any of it until after it happened."
For its part, the DEA has not admitted that it was using Chapa as a spy because its official policy is not to comment on whether someone was an informant.
Lisa Johnson, a spokeswoman for the DEA Houston Division, confirmed that Patty’s demand had been received and noted that it would be investigated by the agency. But the Chronicle established Chapa was an informant based on interviews with multiple law-enforcement officials who spoke on the condition they not be named, and later by courtroom comments of prosecutors.
So now the DEA will drag its feet, pretend like it is investigating this, refuse to admit anything, and, as is fairly standard and routine behavior for government agencies violating the rights of the citizens these days, obfuscate, evade and attempt to block every move to shine a light on this operation.
This is outrageous. And, if the facts presented by the Chronicle are true, whoever put this together and executed it deserves to be put on trial and put in jail. That’s right, jail. We want someone held accountable for this travesty for a change.
As for Patty, pay the man, DEA. You screwed up big time, you were wrong to commandeer his property and put his life in danger. You had no right to do any of that and you owe him the chance to get his life and that of his family back in order.