YAKIMA, Wash. — A meth dealer who barely survived being shot in the face by a federal agent during a drug bust in the parking lot of the Yakima Home Depot store was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison.
Manuel Sanchez, 21, of Grandview apologized to U.S. District Senior Judge Edward F. Shea for his conduct, saying he never fully appreciated the consequences of drug dealing until he saw the effect methamphetamine has had on fellow inmates at the Yakima County jail.
But Sanchez, who spoke with some difficulty after having lost part of his tongue in the shooting, took exception to what he called “unsubstantiated assertions” in his plea agreement that he had tried to run down agents.
“I did not drive toward agents,” he said, adding, “I do not agree with the wording.”
The shooting occurred July 26 outside the Home Depot store on South First Street. Sanchez was under surveillance following two previous buys using an informant.
Members of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s local task force said Sanchez, driving a white Dodge Caravan, passed a baseball glove containing 2 ounces of meth through his window to the informant, who was sitting in a vehicle facing the opposite direction.
According to the plea deal:
“When law enforcement moved in with their vehicles to block his departure, Sanchez tried to flee the scene. In his Dodge van, Sanchez accelerated in an attempt to avoid being apprehended. In doing so, his Dodge van struck both a DEA vehicle, which contained two agents, as well as the (informant’s) vehicle ...
“After hitting those cars, Sanchez further accelerated, driving at a high rate of speed that was unsafe for the public parking lot. Defendant circled back around toward the scene of the drug transaction, where officers were on foot. Defendant drove toward DEA Agent Wayne Ashton, who was on foot, positioned in between the Defendant’s car and an exit. The agent exercised deadly force by shooting the Defendant.”
In explaining the plea deal to Shea, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Dimke described the shooting as justifiable and said Sanchez’s serious injuries “contributed” to a reduction from the normal sentencing range of nine to 11 years under federal guidelines.
Dimke also noted that Sanchez was on pre-trial release at the time of the shooting after having been arrested in May on a drug charge. In fact, Sanchez was scheduled to attend a hearing in Yakima County Superior Court later the same day. That case has since been dismissed.
Shane Silverthorn, Sanchez’s attorney, noted his client’s “factual distinction about how it (the shooting) went down,” concluding “different parties may feel differently about that.”
Even so, he said his client freely admitted he was trying to flee and that his time in jail was an eye-opening experience that also has caused him to evaluate his own use of alcohol and marijuana.
“He is lucky to be alive,” responded Judge Shea, who went to say that he felt the plea deal was “just punishment” for someone so young and that Sanchez brought his troubles on himself.
“Make no mistake about it,” Shea said, “distribution of drugs is a scourge in American culture.”
If Sanchez is being sincere, Shea said, then he has plenty of time to turn his life around and make his family proud after his release from prison in five or six years, depending on time off for good behavior. Sanchez was also placed on four years of probation.
“You can spend the rest of your life reminding them of the good person they believe you to be,” he told the defendant, wishing him “a long and happy life.”
The shooting was the third since 2005 in which a drug bust in a busy parking lot in the Yakima Valley resulted in gunfire. Such settings are considered safer places to conduct business by both drug dealers and narcotics agents alike.
• Chris Bristol can be reached at 509-577-7748 or firstname.lastname@example.org.