In the second violent crime in this country connected with the ATF’s failed Fast and Furious program, two Arizona undercover police officers were allegedly assaulted last year when they attempted to stop two men in a stolen vehicle with two of the program’s weapons in a confrontation south of Phoenix.
The officers, members of an elite Arizona Department of Public Safety law enforcement unit, said the driver rammed their cars and threatened them with the firearms, and then fled into the Arizona desert. The driver was caught and arrested, and two firearms –- a Beretta pistol and AK-47 semiautomatic assault rifle -- were found in the stolen Ford truck, the police said.
The suspect, Angel Hernandez-Diaz, 48, believed to be a Mexican national, was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, driving the stolen vehicle and illegal possession of the weapons. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to stand trial in Pinal County, Ariz., next month.
Also arrested in the incident was the passenger, Rosario Zavala, 30, of Mexico, who was charged with possession of narcotics and the stolen vehicle.
The encounter came five months after the Fast and Furious program began, in which ATF agents allowed the illegal purchase of weapons to try to track the firearms to Mexican drug cartels. And it occurred nine months before the fatal slaying in December of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, killed in a separate assault in which two Fast and Furious firearms were discovered at the scene south of Tucson.
Sources said this is the first case so far of Fast and Furious weapons found at the scene of another violent crime other than Terry’s. Officials at ATF headquarters and the Justice Department are sifting through records to see whether there are more. About 2,000 weapons were allowed to be illegally purchased in the Phoenix area, and the vast majority were lost track of by ATF agents.
“There is bound to be a lot of them,” said one source close to case.
The new incident outside Phoenix, in the suburb of Maricopa, is the crime that the Justice Department alluded to last week in a report to congressional investigators reviewing Fast and Furious. They did not, however, provide any details. The Justice Department originally told Congress there were 11 sites in the U.S. with Fast and Furious guns, but last week revised the number to two identified so far.
Information about the crime surfaced Thursday after officials at the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives at Washington headquarters contacted Arizona law enforcement officials, and they agreed to discuss it.
The weapons found in the vehicle were the 9-millimeter Beretta, hidden under the front console, and the AK-47 in the back seat. Authorities in Arizona said they were told both weapons were illegally purchased under the Fast and Furious program that began in November 2009. Also in the truck were four boxes of ammunition for the AK-47, a box of 23 9-mm bullets for the Beretta, and four cases of Bud Light beer.
According to police reports, indictments and Officer Carrick Cook, the truck was stopped on the night of March 4, 2010, when the undercover unit realized the vehicle was stolen. Rather than exit, the driver revved the car and repeatedly rammed the two unmarked police vehicles.
Inside the truck, the driver removed the Beretta from his waistband, flashed it at the officers, and then bolted from the truck. He then turned in a crouched position as though he was pointing another weapon. At that point, Officer Mike Ruiz fired several times because “he felt his life was in danger and that of the other officer.”
Ruiz missed, and Hernandez-Diaz surrendered.