Does the federal government have the right to deny payment for the destruction of private property? Do they have the right to plant evidence in your vehicle? According to a federal judge they do, and have done as much to Craig Patty, owner of a small trucking company in Texas. With only two trucks in his small fleet, Craig had made arrangements for one of his employees, Lawrence Chapa, to run the truck into Houston for repairs. Little did Patty know, Chapa was an undercover DEA agent who was using his truck to ferry drugs to a prospective buyer in a clandestine sting operation.
As the story goes, it all ended in a hail of gunfire as a small group of Los Zetas associates attempted to take things into their own hands:
[A]s the truck entered northwest Houston under the watch of approximately two dozen law enforcement officers, several heavily armed Los Zetas cartel-connected soldiers in sport utility vehicles converged on Patty’s truck.
In the ensuing firefight, Patty’s truck was wrecked and riddled with bullet holes, and a plainclothes Houston police officer shot and wounded a plainclothes Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was mistaken for a gangster.
The truck’s driver was killed and four attackers were arrested and charged with capital murder.
Now, according to a court ruling, the DEA owes Patty nothing for the more than $100,000 worth of repairs to his truck and they are shirking responsibility for the death of Patty’s employee. In fact they are also denying any involvement whatsoever, leaving Patty holding the bag as a rival drug-runner that stood against the Zetas.
The federal judge has dismissed Patty’s lawsuit against the DEA, stating they can operate with full impunity of the law during an operation:
Orchestrating a covert controlled drug delivery using a vehicle and driver unconnected to any law enforcement organization to obtain evidence against a suspected drug cartel smuggling operation to prosecute those responsible fits within and furthers these policy goals. Deciding to carry out the operation without giving the vehicle owner advance notice and obtaining his consent is consistent with maintaining the covert nature of the operation and therefore with the policy goals.
Patty argues that Villasana’s testimony shows that he did not make a conscious decision whether to get Patty’s permission to use the truck, and therefore did not consider public-policy interests. But “the proper inquiry under prong two is not whether [the government actor] in fact engaged in a policy analysis when reaching his decision but instead whether his decision was ‘susceptible to policy analysis.’” Spotts v. United States, 613 F.3d 559, 572 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Gaubert, 499 U.S. at 325). Courts have consistently held that covert law-enforcement operations like the one at issue here are susceptible to policy analysis and covered by the discretionary function exception.
It’s a sad day when the federal government can take your personal property and destroy it with absolutely no responsibility to replace it. I hope Mr. Patty takes this case to the next level, and the next level after that, until he finds the right judge. There is no reason for the government to have that much immunity from prosecution of the law.