June 03, 2011

The Guerena Shooting: Analysis 2

A YouTube video of a memorial service at the home of Jose Guerena has been posted (here). It is more than ten minutes long, what is of greatest interest is the final few minutes shot by someone attending the service. The video focuses on the back wall of the Guerena home, the backyard fence and the wall of the home behind. Both homes are obviously frame homes covered in stucco, apparently reasonably thick. The fence is made of solid concrete blocks, somewhat narrower than common cinder blocks. Keep in mind that the camera is more or less constantly moving, the framing imperfect, and lens reflectivity—it was shot in bright sunlight—occasionally interferes. There were a few close-ups, but they were brief, shot from a distance, and there was nothing nearby from which to make accurate scale comparisons. Even so, a few reasonable conclusions can be drawn.


(1) I could make out at least 11 apparent exit holes in the back wall of the Guerena home, at least two through a window, and nine through the wall. The lowest hole in the stucco wall appears to be approximately 2’ above ground level and the highest, approximately 7’ above ground level. The exit holes have approximately a 5’ horizontal spread. It is possible—perhaps likely--that there are more holes that I could not see.

(2) The AR-15 platform is popular with SWAT teams because the weapons have excellent ergonomics, light weight, low muzzle blast and recoil, are readily available at reasonable prices, have a very wide range of available accessories, and fire the .223 cartridge, which, if the proper ammunition is used, is a very accurate and effective stopper while also being relatively safe in an urban environment. From this video, it seems likely that the proper ammunition was not used.

One of the disadvantages of the .223 in military use is that it fires a relatively lightweight bullet at high velocity, thus it tends to have poor penetrating capabilities. In Vietnam, where the rifle/cartridge combination was first used in any numbers, bullets could easily be deflected by foliage. However, when they hit a human being, would tend to immediately become unstable, yawing, tumbling and fragmenting, causing enormous damage. Over time, the military developed much more effective bullets that would tend to penetrate well in a wide range of situations.

For civilian police use, an entirely different dynamic is at play. The ideal police .223 round is one with a bullet that expands or fragments upon contact, minimizing the risk of ricochet in case of a miss, or over-penetration of walls or other things. To put it in stark terms, the police want bullets that will cause substantial damage upon impact, but that won’t completely penetrate the people they shoot, or if they miss, that won’t penetrate walls and keep going for miles. To that end, hollow or soft point ammunition is commonly used.

Military ammunition, commonly known as full metal jacket (FMJ) or “penetrator” ammunition, should not be used in the weapons of a SWAT team. Keep in mind that there are a few highly specialized applications for such ammunition, even in the civilian context, but virtually never for an entry team.

(3) The exit points on the back wall of the Guerena home indicate that fully metal jacketed ammunition, perhaps even military penetrator ammunition (possibly even bullets with steel inserts) was likely used. Proper .223 ammunition striking a wall will fragment and/or begin to yaw or even tumble, and if a round fully penetrates, will tend to tear out a fist-sized chunk of wall, thereby exhausting all of its energy. The exit holes I saw on the video are of approximately .22 caliber surrounded by a silver dollar sized—perhaps a bit smaller—circular dish of stucco exploded outward. One would not expect to see this unless the rounds penetrating were not fragmented or tumbling upon penetrating the wall. Remember, these rounds would have had to, at the least, penetrate at least one inner wall of dry wall, one exterior cladding board and the stucco finish of the home. It is also possible that at least some could have also penetrated one or more 2” X 4” studs, and possibly even Jose Guerena.

(4) I could make out at least two holes in the 5’ tall brick fence in the backyard. The rounds appear to have penetrated the inward face of the bricks, and possibly have lodged inside. The camera angle and brief viewing would not allow me to tell if the rounds fully penetrated the fence, or if the police had actually dug the rounds out of the fence. It they were competent, this would be expected. These holes were widely spaced, one relatively high on the fence, one relatively low.

(5) Beyond the fence I could make out what appeared to be two bullet holes on the wall of a neighboring home. One appeared to be at about a 7’ level and the other, about a 4’ level. Again, it was not possible to determine the depth of penetration, or whether the rounds were recovered by the police.


The Guerena property appeared to be relatively new, neat and clean. The pattern of apparent exit holes seems to indicate the inevitable results of the panicky, uncontrolled fire the SWAT team unleashed. The video does not allow an accurate assessment of the interior layout of the home, but if Guerena was crouching in a hallway, as many accounts suggest, the police fire apparently flew down that hallway and out the back wall of the home. The width and height of the pattern indicates, again, panicky, uncontrolled fire. Fully automatic carbines fired by untrained people do tend to experience substantial muzzle rise, which would be reflected by hits very high--and quite wide--on the wall, particularly if Guerena was kneeling when shot.

If these rounds did not fly more or less down a straight hallway and out the back wall of the home, if they had to penetrate intermediate walls in their path, it is a virtual certainty that fully metal jacketed, over-penetrating ammunition was uniformly used. This is particularly so when the hits in the back fence and the wall of the neighbor’s stucco home are considered. Properly frangible ammunition would have been unlikely to penetrate the outer wall of the home, and those few rounds that did would have almost certainly been so fragmented as to have been unable to do more than bounce off the fence or neighboring homes. The holes visible in the video were made by bullets flying straight paths and retaining considerable energy—energy sufficient to seriously injure or kill--even after fully penetrating the Guerena home.

It is unlikely that some of the rounds fired will ever be recovered. Keep in mind that in any police shooting, the police have an obligation to be able to reconstruct precisely who fired each shot, from precisely which position, the flight path of each bullet and its final resting place. They should be able to tell which weapon ejected each piece of expended brass, and where each came to rest in respect to the weapon firing it. Due to the sheer volume of fire alone, this case would be an absolute nightmare for the evidence technicians trying to reconstruct events. In fact, there may be powerful institutional pressure to be inexact.

Also keep in mind that even with SWAT teams (professional teams), officers are issued a basic load of ammunition and every round must be accounted for. Every police officer is directly and absolutely responsible for each and every bullet they fire. After this shooting, every officer’s weapon(s) should have been immediately impounded, every magazine carefully checked and every issued round fired recorded. If this was not done, it would tend to indicate unprofessional conduct at best, and corruption at worst.

FMJ ammunition is commonly used for police training because it is substantially less expensive than hollow point or soft point ammunition. With SWAT teams, which should shoot a great deal more than a normal patrol force, this is a significant issue. However, professional teams understand the characteristics of the ammunition types I’ve outlined here and take great pains to keep their practice and call-out ammunition separate to avoid precisely what the video seems to indicate. Ideally, team leaders issue ammunition and check magazines before final deployment to ensure no mistakes are made. Even so police lore is full of stories of officers who accidently loaded their weapons with practice ammunition, often with comical results, but sometimes with tragic results.

In this case, it’s simply not possible to know, given the information from which I am working, what happened. Were the police unaware of the characteristics of the ammunition they were using? Did they know, but lack proper procedures to avoid mistakes? Virtually everything visible in the original 54-second video suggests a remarkably poorly trained, poorly led, uncoordinated and casual group of officers. If this is indeed the case, it would not be unreasonable to expect that a detail such as the proper kind of ammunition would be likely to escape their notice. SWAT teams are supposed to be very detail-oriented.

I’ve often said, particularly on those occasions when I narrowly escaped injury during my police days, that God protects cops and idiots. That was surely the case here. It is absolutely amazing that Mrs. Guerena and her child and neighbors were not injured or killed. It is equally surprising that the police did not shoot themselves. It would be interesting, by the way, for the local media to confirm that assumption by checking local hospital treatment records for the day of the shooting. While I have no concrete evidence that any officer was injured, I would not be at all surprised.

It is also now known that the SWAT team that raided the Guerena home is comprised of officers from at least four local Law Enforcement Organizations (LEOs). As I mentioned in the initial analysis, this can save money, but potentially creates a great number of problems as those officers selected may be selected for reasons other than their tactical abilities. The administrators of many agencies can tend to work at cross-purposes, interfering with, rather than smoothing the path for, their officers. Mrs. Guerena’s attorneys will certainly want to have all of the records of the SWAT team members and their individual and group training. Remember that with four LEOs involved, there are four rather than one sets of deep pockets. This knowledge may affect the quality of the follow-up investigation, which according to Sheriff Dupnik will be done by representatives of the involved agencies. That is never a good procedure or sign.

What should have been visible in a professional operation? Because only a few rounds would have been fired—only if absolutely necessary—and there would have been no misses, the home—and the neighborhood—would show not the slightest external evidence that police gunfire occurred.

Many people—including those hapless officers--are lucky to be alive today. Hopefully, they realize that.

Posted by MikeM at June 3, 2011 12:54 AM

Dupnik has granted an interview:

Posted by: Robert Evans at June 3, 2011 02:13 AM

Yeah, right. I wonder when Dupnik is going to claim it was suicide, and he has 4 witnesses who will testify to that?

Any idea where Mas Ayoob is going with his recent posting?

He doesn't seem to have yet approved my comment on the professional excellence shown in the video, I'm sure it just slipped his mind. ...

Posted by: Kevin at June 3, 2011 02:26 AM

The public range I practice at in Garland TX specifically disallows FMJ ammo on its' rifle range precisely because of over penetration issues if a round escapes.

Posted by: SDN at June 3, 2011 12:01 PM

While it is a good guess that police forces have the various versions of the M-4 Carbine "patrol rifles" you should not rule out other types of weapons being it the mix too. Many police departments, flush with anti-terrorism and stimulous dollars have gone on shopping trips and bought whatever the SWAT team chief wants based on what looks really cool. To guys with lots of cash, the M-4/AR will look like last year's model to the fashionable cop.

As such, you might see some .308 and fully auto 9mm/.45 guns in the mix.

As for ammo, I would guess that most police departments would buy exclusively 55gr FMJ "ball" ammo for their AR's since that is what the manufacturers recommend. The hard metal nose in just the right shape leads to greater reliability. It is also very easy to buy in bulk for most ammo manufacturers and is the cheapest to get.

Purists will want to get the mil green tip 62 grain penetrators because they heard that their new high rate of twist barrels demand it. They won't understand that such things hardly matter when shooting at a house 50 ft away.

No matter what type of ammo was used, you are right that many of the neighbors are damn lucky to be alive. You just can't spray that kind of lead around without hitting something or someone.

While we gun enthusiasts can wax eloquently about ammo weights and balistic drop, I seriously doubt if your average police department considers more than what looked cool in the brochure. It is very possible that the police in this case never even considered what kind of ammo they were using other than caliber.

Posted by: Professor Hale at June 3, 2011 01:41 PM

Palin did it!!! Actually, I wouldn't beleive him about anything.

Posted by: A_Nobody at June 3, 2011 08:16 PM


You're wrong about the 'average police department' speculation. While the vast majority of police are NOT "gun enthusiasts", at least 15-20% are. That small group are the ones most likely to end up in the firearms/training arena, and the most likely to keep up on ballistic test protocols (Fackler, Roberts, FBI). And, in most departments responsible for recommendations, if not approval & purchase.

Regardless of bullet design (FMJ, polymer tip, open tip, soft point, green tip) the 5.56 has terrible penetrating traits, not much better than a FMJ 9mm NATO round.

Speaking of the 5.56 specifically, IMHO, overall cartridge design would be more important (sealed primer, no flash retardants, feeding reliability, etc.) than JUST projectile architecture.

Posted by: Buck Turgidson at June 4, 2011 12:18 PM

Dear Buck:

When we're talking about such qualities as "penetration," "muzzle flash" or "recoil," we must keep in mind that such things are relative. As I suggested, one of the reasons that the .223 is a reasonable choice for urban law enforcement is that with the proper bullets, it tends not to over-penetrate relative to most other cartridges in commonly military use. However, with FMJ bullets or hardened bullets (not armor piercing) designed to enhance penetration, they do quite well--for a light weight, .22 caliber cartridge.

In this case, they apparently penetrated very well indeed, which again, would tend to indicate that something other than hollow point or soft point bullets was used. The other alternative, which considering the "grouping" of the holes on the wall of the Guerena home seems less likely, is that a separate element of the SWAT team fired blindly through the back wall of the home with Guerena sandwiched between them. In essence, they were shooting directly at each other. Even for a team that performed as poorly as this did, that would be unlikely, however, if they wish to own up to doing just that, things get even more interesting--and frightening.

I'm not sure that we can even agree on a 15-20% "gun guy" component in police agencies. In my experience, those who would have any kind or real knowledge of ballistics, bullet configuration and performance and related issues, as opposed to guys who just like guns and shoot more than most-- is likely closer to 5%, and almost certainly no more than 10% (I'm guessing at averages here), and there is no guarantee that such people would automatically be assigned SWAT duty, or that their leaders would listen to them on such matters if they were.

Still, it would be interesting indeed to know exactly what sort of ammunition was being fired in each weapon--and much more--wouldn't it?

Thanks for your comments, as always!

Posted by: Mike Mc at June 4, 2011 08:21 PM


Thank you for responding.

In my experience, you can leave out SWAT people in our 5%, 10%, 15%, 20% guestimations numbers as 'gun people'. (no disrespect - it's just the way it is) It may be the selection process that eliminates 'gun people' for that clique, I'm not sure, however the only tactical people that ever volunteered ballistic/firearms information and suggestions were the sharpshooters....yet it was only for THEIR special firearms. In contrast many patrol, detectives and even the 'empty holster job' officers, frequently provided timely studies, articles and opinions/questions about cartridges and firearms. And yes, I knew who were the IDPA, steel & benchrest shooters ONLY looking for 'spare' ammo and brass!!

As far as 5.56/.223; because they are so light, I doubt if penetration differences would even be noticeable regardless bullet design. An exception might be one of them there 77gr trophy bonded type rounds, and then it wouldn't be much.

I believe (and hope) the Professor is wrong about the current 'average police department' selection criteria being a cool looking brochure, although that's exactly what happened with the Silvertip ammo before 1986. Much has changed in 25 years and I know of no one, including my prevailing tiny hillbilly Sheriff's Office, that solely uses manufacture's proclamations as an ammunition selection. (Interesting how we do that with vehicles, however!)

BTW, I agree, it will be VERY interesting to learn the particulars!

Posted by: Buck Turgidson at June 5, 2011 09:41 AM

Sounds suspiciously like 855 penetrator ammo...

Posted by: Old NFO at June 5, 2011 07:49 PM

Slightly OT and drawn from 50 year old memories.

Hollow points are illegal in warfare by international treaty.

The Army doctrine was that it was better to wound than to kill as took a lot more resources to tend the wounded than bury the dead. Additionally screaming and moaning are bad for morale. Of course that kinda falls apart for irregulars.

Posted by: Roy Lofquist at June 5, 2011 08:56 PM

"Regardless of bullet design (FMJ, polymer tip, open tip, soft point, green tip) the 5.56 has terrible penetrating traits, not much better than a FMJ 9mm NATO round."

A 'standard' 115 gr. FMJ 9mm projectile, or even a NATO 9mm round will not remotely penetrate 1/2" mild steel plate at 25 yards, a 55 gr. FMJ .223 (or 5.56 NATO equivalent) certainly will.

Posted by: ThomasD at June 6, 2011 09:38 AM


If the mild steel is A36, yes it will. 223/5.56 will also ding the hell out of AR500 at 25 yards. It's all about SPEED, Thomas, as if you could push a pencil eraser fast enough it would penetrate A36. However, the conversation was about shooting in houses. Shoot through layers of dry wall, sheet rock, cement board, plywood or 2x4s with both 5.56 and 9mm and you will find penetration is very comparable. A .223/5.56 will not penetrate a railroad tie or wood telephone poll, but will penetrate soft body armor but rarely the torso of the occupant. A FMJ 9mm will not penetrate soft body armor, but sometimes will on a unprotected torso.

You can find many penetration testing protocols by every major ammo manufacture online. I believe you will be surprised how little a .223/5.56 will penetrate in common house materials.

Posted by: Buck Turgidson at June 6, 2011 02:13 PM