Family suing Hidalgo County over Panama Unit raid - The Monitor: News

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Family suing Hidalgo County over Panama Unit raid

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Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 12:00 pm

McALLEN — A Pharr homeowner and his wife have filed a lawsuit against the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, the City of Mission and Hidalgo County claiming the Panama Unit violated their constitutional rights during a false raid.

The lawsuit was filed by Jose G. Perez and his wife Maria Guadalupe Perez on Tuesday morning at the federal courthouse in McAllen seeking $1 million compensation for mental anguish and slanderous statements.

Perez claims in the lawsuit that in July 2012, six members of the Panama Unit, a narcotics unit comprising sheriff’s deputies and Mission police detectives, broke into his home looking for contraband.

The Panama Unit has since been disbanded after most of its members were arrested and charged with various drug conspiracy charges.

According to various court records in the criminal case against the members of the Panama Unit, the lawmen are accused of working with a drug runner named Fernando Guerra who would tip them off to conduct drug raids on local smugglers and then turn the drugs over to Guerra for distribution while splitting the proceeds.

Some of the Panama Unit members are due in court Wednesday morning for a re-arraignment hearing; it could be that they are going to change their pleas of not guilty, or they might be facing new charges.

Perez claims in his lawsuit that when the Panama Unit members failed to find any contraband, they forced the elderly couple into an SUV and told him to “call someone that sells drugs or else.”

According to the lawsuit, the driver of the vehicle threatened Perez, saying that “if he didn’t call someone right away he was going to take him somewhere and you know what I mean.”

Perez called one individual who agreed to meet him at Matt’s Cash and Carry in Pharr and deliver 2 kilograms — a little less than 5 pounds — of cocaine, with a value of $50,000.

According to the lawsuit, the deliveryman was arrested, but the Panama Unit reported less than half of the 2 kilograms.

Perez is also claiming that Sheriff Lupe Treviño referred to him as a “small-time drug dealer” even though Perez didn’t have a criminal record, the lawsuit shows.

Treviño referred all questions to Hidalgo County officials who said they couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

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Ildefonso Ortiz covers courts, law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at iortiz@themonitor.com, (956) 683-4437 or on Twitter, @ildefonsoortiz.

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