EDINBURG — A former member of the Pharr police SWAT team has sued a colleague and the city after suffering a gunshot wound to the leg two years ago during a training exercise the victim says was covered up.
The lawsuit claims that there have been at least three cases when assault rifles have discharged at the police station and that the SWAT team is highly unqualified — not even certified.
The lawsuit which was filed on behalf of Hector Manuel Mariscal this past week at the 275th state District Court claims that on Aug. 31, 2011, he was called to the parking lot of Pharr police for training and was shot in the leg when a loaded rifle went off.
Since the shooting, Mariscal said in the lawsuit that he has undergone four surgeries and has been left permanently disabled. He no longer works for the department.
Police Chief Ruben Villescas said he had not been served with the lawsuit and referred all comments to the city attorney. Pharr City Attorney Michael Pruneda did not return calls seeking comment Friday afternoon.
While Pharr police policy calls for the Texas Rangers and the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office to investigate any weapon that is fired, the case was handled internally — a violation of standing policy, the lawsuit claims.
The exercise didn’t call for the use of M-4 rifles or live ammunition; however, Juan Carlos “JC” Aguirre was carrying a loaded rifle that went off, according to the lawsuit.
The M-4 described in the lawsuit is a military weapon that can switch from semi-automatic to automatic fire and is made by Bushmaster Firearms International, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The rifle is described in the lawsuit as the most powerful weapon in the Pharr Police Department’s arsenal, yet it is given to every officer — including ones with minimal training who are not proficient in its use.
Pharr police created an unsafe atmosphere with no supervision that risked the public’s safety by having their trainings in the parking lot, the lawsuit states.
Villescas wouldn’t allow his SWAT leaders to participate with other agencies in courses for instructors, and the training for their officers was carried out by SWAT leaders who lack basic SWAT certification or training, Mariscal’s attorney, Mauro Ruiz, claims in the lawsuit.
Even though Aguirre is a member of the SWAT team, the lawsuit says he didn’t have experience or training with the M-4 since his position is a community officer for events at schools and he was not even proficient with his duty handgun.
The lawsuit describes Aguirre as having a desk position, being out of shape and having vision problems.
Aguirre had been responsible for a previous firing of his gun in the parking lot and that despite lacking physical and mental qualities needed for SWAT work, Villescas had allowed him to be on the SWAT team, the lawsuit claims.
Police Lt. Gilbert Guerrero had sent a memo to Villescas asking to remove Aguirre from the SWAT team; however, the chief ignored the request, according to the lawsuit.