Authorities have arrested 17 members and associates of the Wilmas street gang who are named in a federal racketeering indictment.
It alleges acts of murder, attempted murder, narcotics trafficking, robbery and witness intimidation – as well as a series of armed attacks on law enforcement officers dating back to 2008, according to officials.
The 17 people arrested Wednesday are among 29 defendants named in a 111-page indictment that alleges violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
The arrests were made by officers with the Los Angeles Police Department, special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement authorities, including the United States Marshals Service and the FBI.
In addition to those arrested during the Operation “Tidal Wave,” 10 defendants were already in custody on unrelated charges. Authorities are continuing to search for two defendants.
During the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized nearly eight pounds of methamphetamine and 10 firearms, including one linked to a shooting, according to authorities.
“This federal indictment seeks to dismantle the leadership of the Wilmas street gang, a particularly violent street gang that regularly targets members of the community and law enforcement officers for murder,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The devastating impact that this gang has had on the community cannot be overstated, but today’s takedown will help to restore order across Wilmington and ensure that those responsible for the violence and other criminal acts will be taken off the streets for years.”
Operation Tidal Wave targeted the Wilmas gang, which has operated in the Wilmington District of Los Angeles since the 1950s and is affiliated with the Mexican Mafia. As a “surenos” gang, the Wilmas gang “is loyal to, supports and contributes to the Mexican Mafia,” according to the indictment, which outlines how leaders of the prison gang issues orders to kill rival gang members and members of law enforcement.
The federal indictment unsealed Wednesday outlines a criminal enterprise that controls the drug trade in Wilmington, collects “taxes” from drug dealers for the benefit of Mexican Mafia members, maintains a supply of often-illegal firearms, and takes retribution against people who may be cooperating with law enforcement.
Wilmas gang members murdered two 16-year-old victims on February 26, 2012, according to the indictment.
“The Wilmas gang is also a racist organization and has been historically antagonistic to the presence of African-Americans in Wilmas gang territory,” the indictment alleges. “Wilmas gang members have frequently targeted African-Americans who enter or attempt to reside within the area claimed by the Wilmas gang.”
Operation Tidal Wave was conducted under the auspices of the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, which is coordinated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“This joint investigation targeted a very violent and ruthless criminal gang that has terrorized the citizens of Wilmington for too long,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Steve Comer. “The HIDTA Task Force is dedicated to dismantling the most prolific, local area drug trafficking organizations and today’s actions demonstrate that commitment – we’re allied with our law enforcement partners to make our communities safer.”
The 31-count indictment alleges a conspiracy to violate RICO; numerous criminal offenses that violated the RICO statute, including murder, distribution of methamphetamine, extortion, and witness tampering; violent crimes in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to trafficking narcotics, possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and one defendant is accused of being a felon in possession of a shotgun.
The defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
A former deputy U.S. Marshall was sentenced Monday to 15 months in federal prison after being convicted of obstruction of justice in connection with lies he told to police after he fatally shot a man, officials said.
U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez Itkowitz sentenced Matthew Itkowitz, 47, who now lives in Suffern, New York.
The conviction was based on false statements Itkowitz made to Los Angeles Police Department homicide detectives following his fatal shooting of a man in West Hollywood in March of 2008, according to authorities.
Authorities said Itkowitz falsely characterized an altercation that led to the shooting, and his version of events was contradicted by a video made by a security camera in the alley where the shooting took place.
In addition to obstruction of justice, officials stated Itkowitz was charged with violating the victim’s constitutional rights to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer.
During the trial, Judge Gutierrez granted a defense motion for judgment of acquittal on that charge and a related gun charge.
The jury that convicted Itkowitz also acquitted him of an obstruction of justice charge related to statements he made to a supervisor at the U.S. Marshals Service.
“Law enforcement officers are not above the law,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The actions of this defendant tarnished the outstanding work of law enforcement throughout the district and the nation and have earned him a significant federal prison sentence.”
The FBI conducted the investigation in this case.
A federal judge today sentenced brothers Raees Alam Qazi, 22, and Sheheryar Alam Qazi, 32, both naturalized U.S. citizens from Pakistan, to 35 years and 20 years in prison for terrorism and assaulting two deputy U.S. Marshals while in custody, federal officials said.
“With the sentences handed down today, Raees Qazi and his brother Sheheryar Qazi are being held accountable for their roles in a plot to conduct a terrorist attack using a weapon of mass destruction in New York City and their assault on two federal officers during their pretrial detention,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Carlin. “This case highlights our commitment to pursue any individuals who would seek to conduct an attack on U.S. soil or to injure law enforcement officials who risk their lives to protect us. I want to thank the U.S. Marshals, agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this successful result.”
On March 12, 2015, Raees Alam Qazi plead guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists in preparation for the use of a weapon of mass destruction, one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and one count of conspiring to assault a federal employee.
Sherheyar Alam Qazi plead guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists in preparation for the use of a weapon of mass destruction and one count of conspiring to assault a federal employee.
This is the evidence against the brothers that was presented in federal court, according to authorities.
- Raees Alam Qazi was going to initiate an attack using a weapon of mass destruction in New York City and that he had been financially and emotionally supported by his older brother, Sheheryar Alam Qazi, who encouraged him to launch the attack.
- Sheheryar Alam Qazi had encouraged his younger brother to travel from Pakistan to Afghanistan in 2011, and that when Raees Alam Qazi had been unsuccessful in his attempt to enter Afghanistan, he returned to his older brother.
- Raees Alam Qazi had been trying to reach the “guys from Yemen” aka Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on the internet and that they told him not to come to Afghanistan because there were enough people, but instead suggested they do something in the United States.
- Raees Alam Qazi had taken “hints” from an Arabian Peninsula online publication entitled Inspire Magazine, including building an explosive device using Christmas tree light bulbs.
- Raees Alam Qazi used information in Inspire to communicate with Arabian Peninsula, and that his communications with Al Qaeda dealt with his desires to launch an attack in the United States.
- Raees Alam Qazi travelled to New York in November 2012 to conduct an attack with a weapon of mass destruction while Sheheryar Alam Qazi actively misled friends and family members about Raees Alam Qazi’s true whereabouts and activities.
- Raees Alam Qazi called Sheheryar Alam Qazi from New York to notify him that he had not been successful in his task. Sheheryar Alam Qazi encouraged Raees Alam Qazi to return to “practice over here [Florida] then you may return [to New York] you know…. I will give you complete freedom.”
The brothers additionally admitted their participation in a conspiracy to assault federal officers.
On April 8, 2014, the Qazi brothers admitted that while being moved within the federal courthouse in Miami, the brothers punched two deputy U.S. Marshals in the face and struggled with them and attempted to use potentially lethal force on them.
Raees Alam Qazi and Sheheryar Alam Qazi simultaneously exclaimed “Allahu Akbar,” an Arabic exhortation meaning “God is Great” while struggling with U.S. Marshals.
“The threat of a terrorist attack against innocent Americans is real as demonstrated by the actions of these two brothers,” said U.S. Marshal and Special Agent in Charge George Piro. “The fact that their terrorist aspirations were cut short didn’t stop Raees and Sheheryar Qazi from attempting to use potentially lethal force against two U.S. Marshals while they were in custody. This case highlights outstanding work and team effort of our South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force.”
The former second-in-command of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and a former Sheriff’s Captain were indicted for allegedly obstructing an FBI investigation into jail corruption, beatings and abuse of inmates at the two downtown jail complexes, officials said Thursday at a press conference.
Undersheriff Paul Tanaka along with former Capt. William Thomas “Tom” Carey, who oversaw internal criminal investigations at the Sheriff’s Department, were charged with allegedly trying to quash a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights violations by sheriff’s deputies.
A federal grand jury on Wednesday returned a five-count indictment against high-ranking Sheriff’s deputies against Tanaka and Carey, who allegedly participated in a broad conspiracy to obstruct the investigation.
When the Sheriff’s Department learned that an inmate at Men’s Central Jail was an FBI informant, Tanaka and Carey allegedly ordered the inmate transferred throughout the jail system so federal investigators couldn’t find him to bring him before a grand jury to testify about jail corruption and the use of excessive force.
In September, six deputies who were working in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department each were sentenced to federal prison terms for interfering with a federal civil rights investigation into misconduct at the Men’s Central Jail, American Justice Notebook Report
The case against Tanaka and Carey, both 56, was outlined at a press conference by Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura and FBI Assistant Director in Charge David Bowdich.
Tanaka was the undersheriff – the number 2 in the LASD – until 2013. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for sheriff last year. Carey left the LASD after reaching the rank of captain and heading the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, officials said.
The two defendants are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The FBI investigation resulted in 21 defendants, who held various ranks at the Sheriff’s Department, being charged, including the deputy who took the bribe to smuggle the phone and seven co-conspirators in the scheme to obstruct justice
According to the indictment that was unsealed this morning, the two defendants were well aware of “problem deputies” at the jails, “allegations of rampant abuse of inmates,” and “insufficient internal investigations” into deputy misconduct.
But against this backdrop, Tanaka allegedly told deputies assigned to the jails to work in a “gray area” and that he thought that the LASD Internal Affairs Bureau should be reduced from 45 investigators to just one.
The two defendants are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, and each is named in one count of obstruction of justice. Carey is charged with two counts of making false statements, committing perjury last year during the trials of co-conspirators, officials.
Tanaka and Carey surrendered to the FBI early this morning. The two men are expected to be arraigned on the indictment later today in U.S. District Court.
“As the allegations demonstrate, Tanaka had a large role in institutionalizing certain illegal behavior within the Sheriff’s Department,” said Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura. “This case also illustrates how leaders who foster and then try to hide a corrupt culture, will be held accountable, just like their subordinates.”
These are the allegations outlines in the indictment that was unsealed this morning:
- The two defendants were well aware of “problem deputies” at the jails, “allegations of rampant abuse of inmates,” and “insufficient internal investigations” into deputy misconduct.
- But against this backdrop, Tanaka allegedly told deputies assigned to the jails to work in a “gray area” and that he thought that the LASD Internal Affairs Bureau should be reduced from 45 investigators to just one.
- The scheme to thwart the federal investigation allegedly started when deputies in August 2011 recovered a mobile phone from an inmate at the Central Jail, linked the phone to the FBI.
- Deputies determined that the inmate was an informant for the FBI and was cooperating in a federal corruption civil rights investigation.
- The phone was given to the inmate by a corrupt deputy, who subsequently pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges.
- Alarmed by the federal investigation, members of the conspiracy, guided by Tanaka and Carey, took steps to hide the informant from FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service agents.
- The FBI and Marshals Service were trying to bring the inmate before a federal grand jury to testify and were armed with a judge’s court order to do so.
- The deputies altered records to make it appear that the inmate had been released.
- The deputies then re-booked the inmate under a different name, moved him to secure locations, prohibited FBI access to the informant, and then told the inmate that he had been abandoned by the FBI.
- Over the course of several weeks, members of the conspiracy allegedly sought an order from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that would have compelled the FBI to turn over information about its investigation to the LASD.
- After the judge refused to issue the order because he had no jurisdiction over the federal agents, Tanaka and Carey met to discuss having two sergeants approach the lead FBI case agent.
- The sergeants then confronted the agent at her residence in an attempt to intimidate her.
- The sergeants threatened the agent with arrest and later reiterated this threat to her supervisor, stating that the agent’s arrest was imminent.
- Tanaka and Carey oversaw co-conspirators who told fellow deputies not to cooperate in the federal investigation.
Officials allege that members of the conspiracy allegedly engaged in witness tampering by telling fellow deputies that the FBI would lie, threaten, manipulate and blackmail them to obtain information about the Sheriff’s Department.
“The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts,” said David Bowdich, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The public held the defendants to the highest standard, but, instead, they spent their time and energy setting a tone which minimized the value of their oath and dishonored the badge they wore.”
If convicted of all the charges, Tanaka faces up to 15 years in prison. Carey is also facing up to 15 years in prison. He can also be sentenced to as much as 10 years behind bars for the false declaration counts, according to authorities.
The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
EL PASO, TEXAS –
“Trial courts are obligated to take every reasonable measure to accommodate public attendance at criminal trials.” U.S. Supreme Court – Presley v. Georgia (2010)
It’s summer 2014 in El Paso.
The sixth floor is nearly empty at the federal courthouse. I wait for U.S. Magistrate Robert Castaneda to begin his hearings. There are two of us in the hallway – a guy who said his name is Jorge and I.
I’m wearing a blue coat loaned to me from the private company hired to provide security for the courthouse.
Earlier, I was told by courthouse security guard Mr. Sanchez that I had to wear a coat to get inside the courtroom. After getting past the metal detector and waiting for nearly an hour outside the courtroom he decides to spring the coat rule on me.
I admit that I’m not happy. I ask: “Where is the closet with the coats and ties in case somebody forgets to wear a coat or tie?”
There isn’t one.
When then U.S. District Judge Lucius Bunton had his coat-and-tie rule, I told Mr. Sanchez that the judge kept a closet full of coats and a box full of ties. I covered the federal courthouse when I worked for the El Paso Herald-Post and the El Paso Times. Everybody knew Bunton’s dress code. Everyone complied.
Is the dress code posted on the courthouse website or at the front entrance of the building or do you guys assume that everybody who walks into the federal building is able to read minds? I ask sarcastically.
Nobody seems to know the dress code and that cell phones are not allowed inside the building until they try to walk into the building. The only people who can take a cell phone into the federal building in El Paso are attorneys.
Mr. Sanchez talks to his boss via radio. The boss said they would be able to lend me a coat to get inside the courtroom.
I was lucky.
Jorge, who preferred not to give his last name, is sitting two benches down on the sixth floor.
One of the guards standing beside the metal detector near the entrance of the federal building told Jorge that he would need to buy a shirt or he couldn’t get into the courtroom.
Jorge told me he lives across the border in Juarez and as a favor for a family friend, he agreed to go to the federal court in El Paso and find out why Elsee Torres had been busted by the feds.
Not too familiar with the downtown courthouses, Jorge said he first went to the state courthouse across the street from the new federal courthouse. They then directed him to the old federal courthouse across the street from the state courthouse.
From there, Jorge was told that those criminal hearings were being held at the new federal building adjacent to the old federal courthouse.
When he finally got to the new federal courthouse, which was constructed in 2010, the security guard standing near the metal detector stops him. Jorge can’t go inside the building. He has a body shirt. Jorge said he left, hurried to a low-end clothing store a block away and asked a store salesman to sell him the cheapest shirt they had: Price tag – $3.00.
He bought it and put it on, it got inside the federal building and went up to Magistrate Castaneda’s courtroom.
My loaner coat and Jorge’s new shirt assure us passage inside the courtroom. We are going to get into a United States courtroom.
No sooner do we walk into the courtroom, when I observe other people walk in wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes. I count four pair of blue jeans and several pair of tennis shoes. More than a dozen criminal defendants sit in the courtroom. They are dressed in government-issued, dark-blue federal jail jump suits.
I am over dressed at these initial criminal hearings.
The Taxpayer Funded Federal Ghost Town in El Paso
The federal courthouse in El Paso makes a ghost town look crowded. Maybe, it’s because I was there on a Friday afternoon on a hot September day. But I have been there on other days of the week, and there is not that much difference.
It might also be that inside of the building the environment is unfriendly, very unwelcoming.
I like courthouses. Courtrooms are some of the most fascinating places on the planet. But this is from someone who has covered more than 120 murder trials, not to mention hundreds criminal and civil hearings and trials.
Most people go to the zoo to see the gorillas or visit historical sites while on vacation – I will sometimes visit courtrooms, call me crazy, but the characters, story plots, wealth of legal information, conflicts, triumphs, frustration, bickering, drama, the whole gamut of emotional twists and turns – that in seconds can turn from joy to tears to rage – can be found inside courtrooms.
The federal and state robed gods who sit on the benches are interesting to watch: Some are abrasive, rude and curt. Others are patient, compassionate and understanding. There is little in between.
Judge Lucius Bunton’s sense of humor was off the charts, and he made jurors laugh, smile and feel good about being in his courtroom. I loved watching him preside over cases.
The things a person can learn inside a courtroom are incredible, not just about the judicial system but the testimony from medical, forensic, psychological, DNA, accounting and other experts. It’s amazing stuff.
The Phone Calls and Emails
Who makes up these dress and cell phone rules at federal courthouses? Well, everybody who believes he or she knows what is best for the community.
After weeks and months of going back and forth with emails and phone calls to the following people – Charles Hall, the spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington D.C.; Tom Hilburger, divisional office manager at U.S. District Court in El Paso and Melesio Hernandez Sr., the chief deputy U.S. Marshal’s Office in San Antonio and back to the U.S. Court Administration in Washington D.C. – I finally got some answers, and some good news.
In January, U.S. District Court Judge Philip Martinez thought I had legitimate concerns and ordered that the rules about the dress code be put at the front entrance of the El Paso’s federal courthouse, said Mr. Melesio Hernandez.
I had been told that I was wearing a body shirt and that is why they were asking that I wear a coat to get inside the courtroom. I said I was wearing a black body shirt with a pocket, dress pants and shoes. I noted that I’ve always wore a coat and tie while covering the courts for more than 18 years as a newspaper reporter.
Hey, it’s also summer in El Paso, which means the only people wearing coats and ties are lawyers, bankers or unshaven, disheveled people bundled up and pushing shopping carts with personal belongings. It isn’t unusual to have back-to-back 100-degree-plus temperatures.
And I am on vacation.
What About Cell Phones?
Then, I threw a monkey wrench into my phone conversation with Mr. Hernandez: “What about cell phones?”
“That is another issue,” he said.
I explained that the El Paso federal courthouse only allows attorneys to go into the courtroom with cell phones. So the security guards turn people away who aren’t attorneys who have cell phones. So people have to walk back to their parked cars to leave their cell phones inside their vehicles.
In January, two years earlier, I walked into the El Paso federal courthouse with a cell phone. No cell phones. Frustrated, I said, “you’ve got to be kidding?” It was cold. I told them I had just walked three blocks, and why wasn’t this policy posted on the entrance or website?
On this very slow January day, the security guards were nice enough to keep my cell phone and give it back when I was leaving.
I asked Mr. Hernandez:
“What about people who ride the bus or have someone drop them off at the federal courthouse and don’t know about the cell phone policy? What are they supposed to do with their cell phones?”
Mr. Melesio Hernandez said: “That’s another issue.”
Last week, Mr. Hernandez said the El Paso federal courthouse will now have lockboxes where people can store their cell phone while they are in the building and retrieve them when they leave.
“I appreciate you bringing it to my attention because it’s something that needs to be looked at,” he said. “We definitely don’t want to be in the business of inconveniencing members of the public that go into the building to observe a hearing or participate in a hearing.”
El Paso and San Antonio are federal courthouses assigned to the Western District of Texas but have different cell phone rules.
Mr. Hernandez said the judges in San Antonio allow people to bring cell phones into the courtrooms as long as they are turned off in court – period. Photography or texting aren’t allowed, he said
The 94 Federal Judicial Districts in the United States
It would be easy to use El Paso as an example of how a judges’ dress code rules and cell phone policies can make it hard for the public to get inside a courtroom.
The truth of the matter is that there are 94 federal court districts where more than 660 judges are assigned. These districts include the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Also, three territories of the United States — the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands — have district courts that hear federal cases, including bankruptcy cases.
Want to know whether there is a dress code or cell phone policy at a federal courthouse? Don’t bother to look at the websites, in most cases, nothing seems to be posted on dress codes or cell phone policies.
Unlike the Pentagon or the Department of Justice where there are uniform policies, Mr. Hall said the federal government allows judges from each of the 94 districts to decide what people can wear and whether they can take cell phones inside courtrooms.
“Unless we specifically say, ‘you have to do something or you can’t do something,’ then, it is an enormous latitude for judges at the local level to go whichever way they want as long they aren’t actually violating a mandatory national policy or an act of Congress,” said Mr. Hall.
He said a study was done a few years ago on what the policy was for personal electronics, and it varied. Mr. Hall said some court districts like El Paso don’t allow the public to walk into the building with cell phones.
On the other end of the spectrum there are federal courts that allow reporters to bring laptops inside courtrooms.
“It is just a small number,” he said.
It is a “broad acceptance” that the judges assigned to each federal courthouse know what is best for their community as far as a dress code and cell phone policies, Mr. Hall said.
Mr. Hall said people who want to offer suggests, comments or criticism regarding the nation’s federal courthouses rules and policies can contact the U.S. Courts’ Judicial Conference, which meets twice a year.
“I think the issues you are raising are really good, public service issues,” he said.
Some Guards Enforce No-Photos Rules Outside Courthouses
The United States Courts web site also welcomes and encourages visitors to courthouses.
“With certain very limited exceptions, each step of the federal judicial process is open to the public. Many federal courthouses are historic buildings, and all are designed to inspire in the public a respect for the tradition and purpose of the American judicial process,” according to court officials.
“An individual citizen who wishes to observe a court in session may go to the federal courthouse, check the court calendar, and watch a proceeding. Anyone may review the pleadings and other papers in a case by going to the clerk of court’s office and asking for the appropriate case file.”
Apparently, some of the security guards haven’t received the memo about “historic buildings” that are “designed to inspire…etc.”
In 2013, a man was arrested for standing on the sidewalk taking photographs of the Phoenix federal courthouse. He was immediately released after a U.S. attorney found what he was doing wasn’t illegal.
These weren’t isolated cases – Youtube has plenty examples of rude security guards and law enforcement officials who don’t know or understanding people’s constitutional rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court Decisions About Constitutional Rights of Criminal Defendants
There are a number of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that address the importance of guaranteeing the constitutional rights of defendants to have open and fair trials and hearings along with accommodating the public during the jury selection process.
These cases include – Presley v. Georgia (2010); Richmond v. Virginia (1980); Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court (1982); Press Enterprise I v. Superior Court of California (1983) and Press Enterprise II v. Superior Court of California (1986).
“There are benefits in having the public attend open trials, the Supreme Court said in the Richmond Newspapers vs. Virginia case: public confidence is enhanced in the judicial system; the public serves as a watchdog against abuses; public trials promote the truth finding process and helps achieve a community catharsis following a serious crime.”
“Where the trial has been concealed from public view, the unexpected outcome can cause a reaction that the system at best has failed and at worst has been corrupted,” wrote Justice Burger in Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia case.
In Presley v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court thew out a drug conviction because a judge didn’t accommodate the uncle of the defendant. The justices said judges must make every effort to accommodate the public even during the jury selection process.
BTW: The Supreme Court website has information about tours, its gift shop, cafeteria and public lectures.
Jorge’s Family Friend’s Relative
Jorge’s family friend’s relative, Elsee Torres, was arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle more than 80 pounds of liquid methamphetamine across the border.
The hearing with the dozen-plus defendants was over in 25 minutes.
I go across the street into the state courthouse through the metal detectors, go up a few floors in the elevator, cross the pedestrian walkway to get into parking garage, open the car door, look under the driver’s seat and get my cell phone.
I check my phone messages. I had to leave my cell phone under my seat to get inside the federal courthouse.
I drive away – I should have gone to the zoo.
WASHINGTON D.C.—Four former security guards for Blackwater USA were found guilty Wednesday of charges stemming from the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting at Nisur Square in Baghdad, Iraq, that resulted in the killing of 14 unarmed civilians and the wounding of numerous others.
“This verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war,” U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said Wednesday. “Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns, and grenade launchers on innocent men, women, and children.”
Adding, “Today they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families. I pray that this verdict will bring some sense of comfort to the survivors of that massacre. I want to thank the prosecutors and law enforcement agents who have fought for the past seven years to bring justice to the memories of those who were gunned down in Nisur Square.”
The defendants worked for Blackwater USA, a private security contractor that was paid by the U.S. government to provide protective services to U.S. officials.
The verdicts came on the 28th day of jury deliberations and followed more than two months of trial.
Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered that the four defendants be detained pending sentencing. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
The defendants include the following people:
- Nicholas Abram Slatten, 30, of Sparta, Tenn
- Paul Alvin Slough, 35, of Keller, Texas
- Evan Shawn Liberty, 32, of Rochester, N.H.
- Dustin Laurent Heard, 33, of Maryville, Tenn.
Slatten, who was accused of firing the first shots, was found guilty of one count of first-degree murder.
Slough was found guilty of 13 counts of voluntary manslaughter, 17 counts of attempted manslaughter and one firearms offense
Liberty was found guilty of eight counts of voluntary manslaughter, 12 counts of attempted manslaughter, and one firearms offense.
Heard was found guilty of six counts of voluntary manslaughter, 11 counts of attempted manslaughter, and one firearms offense.
The murder charge against Slatten calls for a mandatory sentence of life in prison, officials said.
Each of the voluntary manslaughter counts against the other defendants carries a statutory maximum of 15 years in prison. Each of the attempted manslaughter counts carries a sentence of up to seven years of incarceration. The weapons offense carries a mandatory 30-year prison sentence.
Another Blackwater security guard, Jeremy P. Ridgeway, pled guilty in December 2008 to voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter. Ridgeway, who testified as a government witness in the trial, has not yet been sentenced.