Little Scrutiny in Border Patrol Shootings

Posted by Matthew Green | Oct 15, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Border Patrol has been criticized for shooting unarmed individuals on both sides of the border.  The high profile case of the 16-year-old boy shot 10 times through the fence into Nogales, Mexico, has still not moved forward after two years.  Now a recent investigation has found that the Border Patrol has not disciplined any of its officers in deadly force investigations in a decade.

The head of internal affairs for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said he does not believe any shootings since 2004 have resulted in any punishment against an officer.  Mark Morgan is a former Los Angeles police officer and FBI agent, now heading CBP internal affairs.  Though he is still researching agency data, he found in a review of 67 shootings over the past 10 years, that some of those shootings were unnecessary, and the result of poor tactical decisions and “frustration.”

The committee found that officers were deliberately stepping in front of moving cars to justify shooting at the vehicles.  Others findings include frustration at rock throwers, when the agents could have simply stepped further away to avoid the rocks.  However, the internal CBP response rejects recommendations to counter these issues, alleging agents may not be able to escape rock throwers, or that if they were not to shoot at vehicles, drivers would try to run them over.

Border Patrol agents have shot at people into Mexico on the other side of the border at least six times, including the killing of José Antonio Elena Rodríguez in Nogales.  The committee was also reviewing more than 800 complaints of excessive force or misconduct.  In fact, at least 11 cases of shootings are not being reviewed by the committee because they are still under investigation for criminal prosecution.

Investigations into shooting incidents can last for years, without details or even the names of the agents released publicly, leaving victims' families in limbo.  Morgan said he was committed to making CBP more transparent and accountable, although no specifics have been announced.

CBP fought for over a year to keep secret a critical report of its use-of-force cases, only releasing a copy after it had been leaked to the media.  The report from the Police Executive Research Forum, found that many of the deadly force cases were not justifiable, and that investigations were not thorough or careful.

Former CBP assistant deputy commissioner for internal affairs James Wong does not understand the excessive secrecy.  "We're not talking about terrorist activities or national security; we're talking about things the American public should be aware of, should have access to."

Further criticism comes from another department official.  In an interview by the Center for Investigative Journalism, the former head of internal affairs for CBP, James Tomsheck found that the deaths raises serious questions about whether lethal force was appropriate.  Tomsheck said officials have tried to change facts to make the shootings appear to be a valid use of force, and have covered up wrongdoing. He also said that between 5 and 10 percent of border agents are or were corrupt, including stealing property, leaking information, or taking bribes.

A new change is in place to allow CBP to more quickly investigate allegations of abuse or excessive force, through internal review, rather than wait for an outside investigation.  Although some are concerned that internal investigations may not be completely neutral, many welcome the change to speed up the review process.

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Attorney. The Law Offices of Matthew H. Green focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...

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