Federal Verdict: The DEA Is Above the Law

A recent decision in federal court finds the Drug Enforcement Administration cannot be held liable in the event a sting operation goes south, resulting in thousands of dollars in property damage and loss of life. U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal issued the verdict last week, which essentially strips the DEA of any responsibility when one of their dimwitted plans to toss a wrench into the gears of the international drug war wreaks havoc on civil society.

In this case, the judge determined that Craig Patty, the owner of a small North Texas trucking company, was not entitled to any reparations over a botched DEA sting operation that caused more than $100,000 in damages to one of only two trucks in his fleet, as well as the tragic death of his employee. The ruling comes just weeks before the case was set to be heard in federal court, which some argue is a feeble attempt by the government to prevent this horrific debacle from causing any further embarrassment.

In 2011, DEA agents approached truck driver Lawrence Chapa about working for them as a paid informant. He accepted the offer. After all, the mission seemed relatively simple enough: drive a trailer full of marijuana down to Houston where dozens of law enforcement officers would be waiting along the sidelines to bust the buyers once the deal had been made. All Chapa had to do was convince his boss that he was taking the truck to Houston to have it repaired, and then keep cool long enough for agents to swoop in and arrest the bad guys.

The operation, however, took an ugly turn as soon as Chapa crossed over into northwest Texas. According to the Houston Chronicle, this is when an army of Los Zetas soldiers surrounded the truck and began showering it with bullets. After the smoke cleared, Chapa was dead, a plainclothes officer was wounded, and Patty’s truck had been destroyed.

After receiving a phone call shortly after the incident informing him that his driver had been killed hauling a shipment of marijuana, Patty was surprised to learn that Chapa had been working with federal agents and that his trucking company was unwittingly being used to fight drug cartels. The situation continued to go downhill from that point forward.

Once the DEA eventually released the truck, it was inoperable for several months while it racked up a repair bill of $133,532 – all of which Patty was forced to pay out of his pocket because the DEA didn’t offer any assistance, while his insurance provider refused to pay based on the truck’s involvement in a police operation. To make things worse, Patty remains concerned that his trucking company has been flagged by drug cartels and that the threat of retaliation against his family and business are a real possibility.

Due to the obvious hassle surrounding this incident, Patty filed a $6.4 million lawsuit against the DEA in hopes of recouping some of the loss he incurred over the past few years. Yet, the judge’s ruling last week will ensure that he never receives a single cent from the federal government, because it basically implies that the DEA can employ any tactic they deem necessary to pursue those in violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

“The DEA’s decision ‘to proceed with such an operation is entirely discretionary, and not mandated by any statute, rule, or policy,’” according to the ruling. “Whether and how to conduct such an undercover investigation and operation is “necessarily discretionary in nature.” Agents “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.”

The verdict shocked Patty’s attorneys, who said it translates into citizens not being able to sue the federal government. What’s more, they continued, is that it suggests that government agencies have the right to use “anybody’s personal property” to conduct drug war missions without first obtaining permission or without being held accountable.

In an emailed statement, attorney Andy Vickery wrote:

A federally deputized corporal from the Houston Police Department decides to pay your small company’s driver to drive your truck to the Mexican border, load it up with illegal drugs, and try to catch some bad guys.   He knows that the driver is lying to “the owner” – although he doesn’t know your name or identity and doesn’t bother to find out. The bad guys outwit the cops. Your company’s driver is killed. Your truck is riddled with bullet holes.

Query: is our federal government liable to pay for the damages to you and your property?

Answer: Nope.

Reports indicate that an appeal has already been filed.

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