Appeal likely for trucking company owner who sued DEA for botched sting

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Friday, May 01, 2015

A Texas trucking company owner who sued the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and other law enforcement agencies in connection with the November 2011 shooting death of a company employee, will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that threw his case out of court.

Craig Patty, owner of Craig Thomas Expeditors, originally sued Javier Pena, head of the Houston DEA office, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and at least a dozen or more unknown government employees for their role in orchestrating a botched drug sting that ended in a gun battle. He later amended his suit to drop all named defendants except for the United States.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal ruled that DEA does not owe Patty any damages, not even the cost of repairing the bullet holes that riddled his truck and trailer. The agency used the vehicle for a sting operation against the Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel, without obtaining his permission. Patty also claimed in the lawsuit that he was unaware that his employee, Lawrence Chapa, was also a confidential informant for the agency.

Patty’s attorney, Fred Shepherd of the Vickery Law Firm in Houston, said the ruling was disappointing.

“With respect to the judge’s opinion, we think there are significant issues the court is overlooking,” he said in a phone interview with Land Line on Friday, May 1. “The court’s opinion basically provides that as long as a law enforcement officer is trying to further a law enforcement mission, they’re able to use whoever’s property they want without obtaining the requisite permission or authority they need.”

Shepherd said his law firm has “already appealed” to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“If necessary, depending on what happens in the Fifth Circuit, we will go to the Supreme Court to try and get an authoritative answer,” he said. “What was done to Mr. Patty was unjust, unfair and we believe it’s contrary to the law.

“It’s a scary proposition thinking the government can use anybody’s property that they want, not get permission to do it, and then leave the property owner stuck with the bill for any damages that occur,” he said.

The suit, which was filed Oct. 29, 2013, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, describes what it calls “a bizarre set of facts that, were they not true, would almost seem implausible.”

A message left with the DEA’s office in Houston was not immediately returned.

Patty’s truck – which had a load of marijuana concealed in it – was attacked in broad daylight in Houston on Nov. 21, 2011, by three SUVs reportedly full of members of a Mexican drug cartel. The ensuing shootout, which occurred under the surveillance of the DEA and other local law enforcement agencies, left the driver dead in the bullet-riddled cab of the truck. An undercover Harris County Sheriff’s deputy was also wounded by a Houston police officer.

Patty’s suit alleges that “without either the knowledge or consent” of the plaintiff, agents of the federal and state government commandeered his business property and used it for a sting operation against Mexican drug lords. He is seeking damages of more than $133,000 for lost time and repairs to the truck, as well as a multimillion-dollar claim for damages to himself and his family, which Shepherd said has been living in fear of retaliation from the cartel.

In July of 2011, 50-year old Craig Patty and his father, Thomas, started their own trucking company called Craig Thomas Expeditors. The company purchased a truck and hired one driver. In September, Patty’s company bought its second truck, a 2006 Kenworth T600, and hired Chapa as the driver.

According to the lawsuit, Chapa, unbeknownst to Patty, had a history of arrests including one for cocaine possession. Patty’s suit alleges that a check of Chapa’s record with the Department of Transportation was free of criminal convictions. The suit alleges that the DEA arranged for Chapa to have a clean record and orchestrated his hiring by Patty.

The suit contends that the plan was for Chapa to orchestrate a drug deal with members of the Mexican Zeta drug cartel, who were purportedly smuggling illegal drugs from Mexico into Texas.

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