The owner of a Texas trucking company is suing the U.S. Government and a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official for up to $6.4 million over a botched drug sting that left one of the carrier’s drivers dead and riddled his truck with bullet holes.
Steven Craig Patty, owner of Craig Thomas Expeditors, claims that DEA agents used his truck and his employee in a November 2011 drug sting. Patty says he was unaware this his truck and his employee would be taking a part in the sting.
Patty first met Chapa at a seminar in September of 2011, when Chapa approached him about a job.
Patty ran a background check on Chapa, which came back free of any criminal convictions. However, Patty later learned that Chapa’s criminal history was not clean. Chapa “had a long history of arrests, including one for cocaine possession, was arrested for tossing a tire through the window of a Goodyear store in downtown Houston,” the lawsuit states.
Patty and his attorney believe that Chapa’s criminal record had been altered by DEA agents to show a clean record, so that Chapa could be hired.
On that November day, Craig Thomas Expeditors driver Lawrence Chapa was acting as a secret informant for the DEA. He was working with the DEA to expose the notorious drug trafficking cartel, the Zetas.
Plain-clothes officers were following Chapa’s truck, which was carrying marijuana from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston where traffickers were awaiting the delivery.
When Chapa reached Harris County, the truck was ambushed and run off the road by three vehicles.
According to the 16-page lawsuit,
When the red Kenworth arrived in Houston, all Hell broke loose. The plan for the
sting was for Lawrence Chapa to rendezvous with the bad guys so that a transfer of the illegal drugs
could be made. At that point, the Task Force officers would swoop in and make arrests. But the
officers of the Drug Task Force were outwitted by the Mexican drug lords. On Monday afternoon,
November 21, 2011, the truck was intercepted in Northwest Houston by outlaws from the Zeta cartel,
driving in three sport utility vehicles. An intense fire-fight ensued. An undercover Harris County
Sheriff’s Deputy was wounded, and Lawrence Chapa was shot eight times and killed. Patty’s red
truck was wrecked and riddled with bullet holes.
It was a major fiasco; and a major media event on the evening news.
During the fire-fight, a Houston task force police officer mistakingly shot and injured a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy who was dressed in plain clothes.
Four people were arrested and charged with capital murder for Chapa’s death.
The nightmare scene did not end there. The bullet-riddled truck was returned to Patty, and the DEA refused to pay for the damage.
Excerpt from the lawsuit:
One would have thought that, having commandeered an innocent citizen’s property
for a government sting operation, and having had the truck shot to smithereens by banditos and cops
alike, the head of the DEA office in Houston would have been apologetic. Reason would have
seemed to dictate that they would act with all deliberate speed to repair or replace Mr. Patty’s truck,
to compensate him for the economic and other losses suffered by his business and his family, and
to provide police protection against any retaliation by the Zetas.
23. But they did exactly the opposite. Mr. Peña himself said absolutely nothing to Craig
Patty. But in an interview with Houston Chronicle reporter Dane Schiller a few months later, he
commented on the shooting incident as follows:
“We are not going to tolerate these types of thugs out there using their
weapons like the Wild Wild West,” said Javier Peña, the new head of
the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Houston Division. “We
are going after them.”
Reported in chron.com (March 20, 2012).
Mr. Patty does not object to the DEA “going after” the bad guys. But the Constitution
requires that it do so with its own vehicles and its own assets and its own employees.
What the Drug Task Force decided to do instead was to deputize Harris County
detective Mark Reynolds,5 to play the role of “bad cop.” He started by telling Patty that he had to
arrange to have his own bullet-ridden, blood-stained truck removed from the scene of the crime, or
that he would be charged a daily storage fee.