On November 2, 2004, a young man named Robert Guerrero was asked by a friend to reconnect the electrical current to her apartment in Fort Worth –– the power had been shut off for non-payment. Guerrero didn’t hesitate: His friend had a newborn, and while it was 51 degrees that day, it had dropped to 39 just a couple of nights earlier. She needed heat.
Guerrero went to the Northside apartment at 25th and Clinton, reconnected the electricity, and then went into the apartment to shower.
He didn’t realize it at the time, but someone who saw him reconnecting the electricity called the Fort Worth police, who arrived just as he was getting out of the shower. With no clothes on, he ducked into a closet.
When the cops found him, they ordered him out. Guerrero, with a history of minor brushes with the law, refused to leave the closet. The two police officers then forced the closet door open to find Guerrero hiding beneath a plastic bag. One of the officers, a six-year veteran, again ordered Guerrero out. When he refused, the officer un-holstered his Taser and shot him in the chest with it. The police report noted that the officer held the Taser’s trigger down for 10 seconds, twice the normal time for the electrical device’s use.
When Guerrero still refused to leave the closet, he was given three more 5-second blasts with the Taser before the officers pulled him out.
Within a few minutes of the Tasering, Guerrero stopped breathing. Paramedics were called, but neither they nor the police could restart his heart. Guerrero was declared dead when he arrived at John Peter Smith hospital a short while later.
The manner of death was declared an accident, and the medical examiner said that the cause of death was “acute cocaine intoxication.” The cause of death was challenged by a member of the medical examiner’s staff, who told the Fort Worth Weekly at the time that “the amount of cocaine found in Guerrero’s blood would not normally have caused him to have heart failure.”
When the Weekly asked Lt. Abdul Pridgen, public information officer for the Fort Worth police at the time, why a Taser was used on Guerrero, his response was that “the officers had dealt with him before and believed he might have had a weapon.”
When asked if Guerrero had ever had a weapon in previous encounters with the police, the answer was “no.”
Guerrero was the first of several deaths that occurred shortly after Taser use in Fort Worth over the next couple of years. The officer who had utilized the Taser was suspended for 16 days for the 10-second blast. His partner was suspended for three days.
And that was the end of that. Guerrero, a small time crook whose rap sheet was littered with misdemeanors for things like theft and burglary of a coin-operated machine, didn’t seem to matter too much in the scheme of things.
That changed recently, when I received an e-mail from a person named Jasmine Guerrero asking if I had written the story about Robert Guerrero’s death. I wrote back that I had (“Torture by Taser,” June 24, 2005).
She wrote that she was his daughter, now 13, who was just 3 years old at the time of his death. Her mother, Robert’s widow, had gone through some things and left the paper on the table for her to see.
“I knew my dad died from the police and he was Tasered, but I didn’t know the story,” she wrote.
She wanted to talk about it.
We met at her mother’s home, a simple single-family place on a nice working class block in North Fort Worth. Jasmine is a pretty young woman with deep eyes and dark hair.
“Growing up without a dad was harsh,” she said. “At school, whenever things happened, I had to tell my teachers my father couldn’t come because he died when I was very little. My mom has a picture of my dad. I learned about what happened to my dad when I was 12.”
Her mother, Linda, sat with both Jasmine and Brianna, Robert Guerrero’s youngest daughter, in front of the house. Linda said that she and Robert were separated at the time of his death but that they were considering reconciling.
“I had to leave him because he wouldn’t stop doing drugs,” she said. “I was doing them, too. The last time I spoke with him was on Halloween night, just two days before he died. He sang a song to me about how much he loved me and that he would stop doing drugs to be with me.”
Linda’s drug use had cost her both Jasmine and her 2-year-old son José, who were both placed in foster care prior to Robert’s death.
“We were going to court before it happened to get them back, to show them I was not using drugs anymore,” Linda recalled. “And then, just a week after Robert’s death, I had Brianna. I only had her one day before Child Welfare picked her up.”
Nine months later, Linda had convinced child welfare that she had turned her life around. She got all three of her kids back.
“I got a job, got a house, did everything I was told to do,” she said. “It was like a message from God. They were taken away from me to make me change my life so that I could get them back.”
Jasmine said that despite growing up without a dad and not having one now, the family gets by: “The bills get paid. There’s food on the table.”
She still doesn’t understand why her father was Tasered and why he died. In fact, there may be no good reason. Stealing electricity is not a police matter –– unlike turning off the electricity of a woman who has an infant in cold weather. So what Guerrero did should not have resulted in anything more than the police calling the electrical company to give them a heads up to keep the electricity running in that apartment. But that’s not how it went down.
“I don’t remember him,” said Jasmine, who is doing well at Meacham Middle School, “but I still miss him. He didn’t matter so much to some people, but he mattered to us.”