The family of slain U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry charged Wednesday that the top federal prosecutor in Phoenix lied to them about the guns found at the crime scene in an attempt to hide the weapons' connection to the ATF's failed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.
Terry was killed in December 2010, allegedly by Mexican bandits carrying at least two AK-47 semiautomatic rifles that had been purchased in Arizona as part of Fast and Furious. The operation was intended to catch drug lords using illegal weapons, but the ATF immediately lost track of 1,700 firearms.
The Terry family alleged that then-U.S. Atty. Dennis K. Burke told them last March that the two weapons came from a store in Texas and were not part of Fast and Furious.
The family made their allegations in a "notice of claim" stating that they intend to sue the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Justice Department for $25 million. They called the gun-tracking operation "abominable, reckless, nonsensical."
Burke has resigned and has declined to discuss Fast and Furious. But the family's claim notice strongly suggests that the federal government initially sought to keep Fast and Furious under wraps and hoped it would not be linked to the slaying.
Fast and Furious, run by the ATF's Phoenix field office, allowed illegal gun purchases in Arizona in hopes of tracking the weapons to Mexican drug cartels. Capitol Hill became aware of the operation in January 2011 — the month after Terry's slaying — but the program did not become publicly known until early March.
"The Terry family had received lots of conflicting and confusing information about exactly how Brian came to be shot in the back and killed," the claim notice says. "None of it made any sense."
After a memorial service in Tucson in January 2011, the family met with Border Patrol, FBI and Justice Department officials in a hotel conference room. "But the officials gave them almost no information and wouldn't answer the family's questions," the notice says. Two family members walked out.
"The federal officials were obviously covering something up, and their actions only added to the family's grief," the notice says.
In March, Burke met with the family in Michigan, where they live. "But this meeting went even worse," the notice says. "Burke hemmed and hawed, bobbed and weaved, refused to give straight answers, and flat-out lied about what he knew about Brian's death and Operation Fast and Furious."
The notice quotes Burke as saying the fatal bullet would never be found, even though it had already been located during an autopsy. And he told them the AK-47s were "bought from a gun store in Texas and were not linked to Operation Fast and Furious."
In fact, the notice says, "Burke actually knew within hours of Brian's murder that they were purchased from a Phoenix gun shop under ATF surveillance the previous January" — a fact borne out by Burke's emails.