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Terry Family Sues Feds for Fast & Furious Bungle

PHOENIX (CN) - The family of a slain Border Patrol agent wants damages from the U.S. government, saying it put the murder weapon in the hands of a Mexican drug cartel through Operation Fast and Furious.

Cartel operatives shot and killed U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry on Dec. 14, 2010, with guns bought illegally from Lone Wolf Trading Co. in Glendale, Ariz.

They left two of the guns in the desert near Rio Rico, Ariz., alongside Terry's body. The guns were among 2,000 lost by the government during Operation Fast and Furious, which the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had launched as a way to track down the leaders of Mexican drug cartels.

Though the Office of the Inspector General cleared Attorney General Eric Holder of liability for Operation Fast and Furious, it reprimanded a host of other agents for their inadequate oversight.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley and six of the implicated ATF agents now face a lawsuit from Terry's parents, Kent Terry Sr. and Josephine Terry. The Dec. 13 federal complaint also names Lone Wolf Trading; and its owner, Andre Howard.

The Terrys say that Operation Fast and Furious ensured "that dangerous firearms were distributed to the Mexican drug cartels, the most violent criminal organizations in North America."

Lone Wolf Trading Howard "knowingly and willingly made illegal sales of dangerous firearms to known 'straw purchasers' for the Mexican drug cartels from which a substantial profit was generated," according to the complaint.

Agents "created, organized, implemented, supervised, and participated in Operation Fast and Furious despite the foreseeable certainty that the Mexican drug cartels who defendant Lone Wolf sold firearms to and who the ATF defendants and defendant Hurley intended to receive the firearms would then use those weapons to cause injury and death to members of the public, including and especially other law enforcement officers like Brian Terry," the Terrys added.

They say ATF agents never provided information "regarding these illegal firearms sales and transfers to other law enforcement agents or officials, including other law enforcement agents or officials, including Border Patrol agents like Brian Terry, whose mission was to engage the outlaws who would be receiving and did receive these weapons."

They also claim that drug cartel violence in Mexico dramatically increased during Operation Fast and Furious, and Hurley learned of incidents in which operation firearms were used against law enforcement officers.

Despite this knowledge, Hurley and the agents "continued to callously and recklessly disregard the danger of further acts of violence against innocent civilians and law enforcement officers that they had created and did nothing to either stop the flow of weapons to the cartels or warn law enforcement officers like Brian Terry of the amplified danger created by the ATF defendants' and defendant Hurley's conduct," according to the complaint.

Jaime Avila Jr., who obtained the guns used to kill Terry as a straw buyer for the cartels, was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison on Dec. 12.

Terry's parents say Avila bought AK-47 style firearms and other guns from Lone Wolf on at least two other occasions in the previous six weeks, buying 10 weapons in all, before buying the weapons used in Terry's death.

Had agents arrested Avila at the time of his Jan. 16 purchase, Brian Terry would not have been murdered, according to the complaint.

In addition to keeping straw buyers on the street, the ATF failed to "intercept the weapons, or otherwise stop the purchases and transfers from occurring, they took affirmative actions to ensure that the illegal weapons purchases and transfers of those weapons to Mexican drug cartel operatives were allowed to continue," the complaint states.

ATF agents encouraged Lone Wolf "to make illegal sales despite concerns about those purchases, falsely telling FFLs [Federal Firearms Licensees] and other law enforcement and prosecutorial personnel that the ATF defendants and defendant Hurley were tracking and intercepting illegally purchased weapons, and affirmatively instructing ATF agents under their command not to arrest or approach straw purchasers or transferees of the illegally-purchased weapons," the lawsuit says.

The six agents named in the Terrys' complaint are: Special Agent-In-Charge William Newell; Assistant Special Agent-In-Charge George Gillett; Special Agent David Voth; Special Agent Hope MacAllister; Special Agent Tonya English; and Deputy Director William McMahon.

The Terrys seek punitive damages for violations of civil rights, due process violations, and wrongful death. They are represented by Patrick McGroder III and Lincoln Combs of Gallagher & Kennedy.

Manuel Osorio Arellanes, 36, pleaded guilty on Oct. 30 to murdering Terry and will be sentenced on Jan. 11, 2013.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein resigned in the wake of the OIG report, and former BATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson retired.

Holder said in a statement in September that "those individuals within ATF and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona, whom the OIG report found to have been responsible for designing, implementing or supervising Operation Fast and Furious have been referred to the appropriate entities for review and consideration of potential personnel actions."

In February 2012, the Terrys sued Lone Wolf Trading and Howard in Maricopa County Superior Court.

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