Border Patrol Shoots, Kills Rock Thrower

June 22, 2011 4:44 pm

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SAN DIEGO – In another disturbing incident, a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot and killed a suspected border crosser on the Mexican side of the border who was throwing rocks at agents. This shooting is the latest in a series of incidents over the past six years. The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, citing legal and humanitarian problems with recurring instances of disproportionate use of force, called on the FBI to investigate and an agent confirmed this morning that the agency would do so.

“We simply cannot allow our law enforcement agents to use lethal force when confronted with rock throwers,” said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “We’re still waiting to hear all the facts, and there are numerous versions of the incident being recounted, but regardless, our law enforcement agents need to find new ways to deescalate such situations. Shooting someone accused of throwing rocks should not be part of the U.S. policy playbook.”

This latest incident took place last evening, when a Border Patrol agent shot Jose Alfredo Yañez Reyes, who witnesses said was with his wife and baby on the Mexican side of the border. News reports say that he was one of three men spotted attempting to cross at the border fence just west of the San Ysidro port of entry at about 7:30 p.m. Some reports describe a skirmish between the agents and the border crossers.

A similar shooting took place on August 11, 2008, when a Border Patrol agent shot Edgar Israel Ortega, whom agents allege was throwing rocks at them from Mexico onto the U.S. side of the border. Last year, an undocumented immigrant was tasered in San Ysidro and later died in U.S. custody. Since then, four more immigrants have died in shootings or taserings by border agents. Border Patrol agents also killed a boy who died on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande near El Paso last year.

In December 2005, an autopsy revealed that a Border Patrol agent shot a man in the back who was running back across the border, because, a police press release at the time said, the man had scooped up rocks and cocked his arm to throw them at the agent. Before any investigation of that incident had been conducted, the Border Patrol’s spokesperson justified the shooting, saying, “If I was put in the same shoes as this agent, that’s exactly what we’d have to do.”

While the ACLU recognizes that there are rare instances in which an agent needs to use lethal force if there is a tangible threat of serious bodily harm to agents or others, the frequency and regularity of its use is becoming alarming.

A coalition of human rights organizations called for independent oversight of federal law enforcement agencies and some transparency to the investigation after the 2008 incident. The current system allows investigating agencies and prosecutors to never reveal what really happened and whether the use of force was justified. No investigation has yet taken place.

“We are supposed to be a nation of laws and humanity,” said Cynthia Buiza, policy director of the San Diego ACLU. “How can we tolerate our law officers using lethal force and not being held accountable when we are trying to spread democracy and open government across the globe? This madness has to stop, and those responsible have to be made to answer for their actions.”

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