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CBP Stonewalling on Border Shootings

October 4, 2013
CBP registered the shooting of Hernandez as an “Assault on Federal Officer.”

CBP registered the shooting of Hernandez as an “Assault on Federal Officer.”

Recent FOIA requests for records on fatal borders shootings have been met by stonewalling from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The FOIA requests are part of an organized effort to pierce the veil of secrecy around the disturbing increase in the number of people killed by U.S. agents patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. Civil rights groups and media accounts report at least 19 people killed as a result of alleged excessive use of force by Border Patrol officials since January 2010. Eight of the victims were alleged to be throwing rocks, eliciting live fire from Border Patrol agents in response (see ACLU backgrounder, updated September 17, 2013). The incidents have led to public outrage and strained tensions between the U.S. and Mexican governments. The deaths have also raised concerns among members of U.S. Congress regarding use of force training and accountability measures in place within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and CBP, leading to an internal review and recent release of a redacted report by the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) (see OIG report, released September 12, 2013).

One of our FOIA cases pertains to the June 7, 2010 shooting of Sergio Adrián Hernández Guereca, a 15-year-old boy killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the U.S. side of the border in El Paso, after a group of teens allegedly threw rocks at the agent. Video footage surfaced three days after of the shooting, showing the officer firing two shots from the U.S. side of the border into Mexico, where Sergio Adrian fell on impact (see AP report). The shooting led to an FBI investigation into the affair, but the investigations were dropped by the Justice Department in April 2012, reportedly due to lack of evidence (Huffington Post). The family has pursued a civil suit against the Border Patrol agent responsible for the shooting, identified as Jesus Mesa Jr., and other officials. The case was initially dismissed in U.S. federal court, but a new lawsuit was filed and is now underway in U.S. appellate court. The family’s lawyer says the Justice Department admitted that Hernández had not thrown any rocks himself. The attorney has based the new suit based on the claim that the shots fired by the Border Patrol were unjustified (EFE via La Prensa).

The documents released by CBP in response to our FOIA request include a ten-page “Reportable Use of Force Incident” report describing the actions taken by the three border patrol agents involved in the shooting. The incident is categorized not a homicide or even an event involving excessive use of force, but rather as an “Assault on Federal Officer: Shots fired by Agent.”

Read the rest at Migration Declassified.

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