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Appeals court to hear lawsuit against DEA

posted Jan 5, 2016, 10:41 PM by Resty Manapat

A federal appeals court has agreed to hear oral arguments in the case of a Texan suing the Drug Enforcement Administration for using his 18-wheeler without permission for a drug cartel sting that ended in Houston with an informant fatally shot while driving the truck. 

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans, is scheduled to take the case in February. 

Lawyers for Craig Patty are hoping that the court will reverse a decision by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal that Patty should get nothing from the DEA for secretly using his truck. He got it back damaged by bullets, including those that killed Lawrence Chapa, who was behind the wheel and left blood spatters in the cab. 

Chapa, an employee of Patty’s trucking company, also was working as a DEA informant in 2011 when he drove a load of marijuana from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston in coordination with law enforcement officers who were covertly trailing him. 

They were to sweep in and make arrests when the load reached its destination. Instead, it was intercepted in broad daylight by cartel attackers. In the ensuing confusion, a plainclothes Houston police officer shot and wounded a plainclothes Harris County sheriff’s deputy. 

Patty contends in his civil lawsuit that the government should not only pay for fixing the truck and the temporary loss of its use after the 2011 shootout, but also for the emotional turmoil he and his family endured as they feared that the notorious Zetas cartel would target them. 

Patty had sought up to $6.4 million with the lawsuit but said from the start that his main goal was to shed light on the case and have the facts known publicly. Many of the government’s motions filed in the case were kept sealed to protect the secrecy of DEA operations. 

The government contends that it needs discretion when it comes to fighting crime and that it needed to use Patty’s truck. 

“The government just absolutely totally violated Craig Patty’s constitutional rights,” said Patty’s lawyer Andy Vickery. “If this case is affirmed, if the court puts its imprimatur on this case, then all of us as citizens are subject to having our vehicles used at any time without our knowledge or approval by police who say, ‘Heck, let’s just use this car.’” 

Vickery said the goal is to have the appeals court panel rule that the government can be held liable for the full range of damages and then get the case sent back to the trial court for evidence to be heard and a decision on damages to be made. 

Patty originally went public with his concerns about the government to send a message to the cartels that he and his family had no idea that Chapa was secretly working for the DEA and trying to set up a drug bust. 

But Patty also spoke of his frustration at the government’s actions in refusing to provide answers about what it had been doing or to pay for repairs to his truck. He was told to pick up the damaged truck and threatened with impound fees if he was late. 

Patty said he suspects that the government is interested in not just hiding how it conducts drug operations, but, in this instance, what went wrong. 

“How am I — a small businessman, father of three, American Joe from Texas — supposed to make a claim against a federal agency that has conveniently shrouded itself behind a red, white and blue cloak of confidentiality and secrecy?” he asked. 

Source: San Antonio Express-News