San Diego Union-Tribune
June 22, 2011
By Sandra Dibble and Debbi Baker
SAN YSIDRO — The shooting death of a 40-year-old Tijuana resident by a U.S. Border Patrol agent Tuesday night has reignited a debate about the agency’s use of force in rock-throwing incidents.
Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat issued a statement from Mexico City Wednesday that strongly condemned the shooting, stating: “The use of firearms to repel rock attacks, which preliminary information indicates may have happened in this case, represents disproportionate use of force.”
Four other fatal shootings by Border Patrol agents who reported being under rock attacks have occurred nationally since 2008.
Not all the details of Tuesday night’s incident are clear.
According to the San Diego Police Department, the agent had spotted three men crossing at the border fence just before 7:30 p.m. about a half mile west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
The agent called for backup and when a second agent arrived they tried to arrest the trio. Two of them fled back into Mexico through an opening in the fence, said San Diego police homicide Lt. Ernie Herbert.
Agents caught the third man who resisted arrest and started to fight.
During the struggle, one of the other men leaned over the top of the fence and hurled large rocks and a piece of wood with nails sticking out of it at the agents, Herbert said.
The piece of wood hit one of them in the head, the lieutenant said.
As the man began to throw another rock, an agent opened fire, hitting him once. The man fell back into Mexico and died, Herbert said. Authorities identified him as Jose Alfredo Yañez Reyes.
The man involved in the scuffle was arrested.
The agent who opened fire has been with the force for three years. His name had not been released. The agent who was hit with the board was treated at a hospital and released, police said.
Ralph DeSio, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, issued a statement that said: “A thorough, multi-agency investigation is currently on-going after the agent-involved shooting death of a Mexican national.
“CBP regrets the loss of life and awaits the results of the investigation into this incident.“
Reyes was shot in the left eye, said Fermín Gómez, an assistant attorney general for the state of Baja California. He fell at the foot of a tree on the Mexican side of the border fence. Because of the cross-border nature of the incident, the investigation has been taken over by the federal Attorney General’s office, and that they are collaborating with U.S. authorities.
Born in the state of Sinaloa, Yañez Reyes described by Mexican authorities as a longtime Tijuana resident who lived with his 18-year-old girlfriend and their son in a western area of the city called Colonia Santa Rosa.
The woman, Mayra Paredes Niño, gave a statement to the Mexican federal attorney general’s office Wednesday afternoon. She did not make a comment as she left the building.
Paredes, who is five months pregnant, said Yañez had not spoken to her of his intention of crossing to the United States, according Baja California’s human rights ombudsman, Heriberto García, who met with her following the shooting. Paredes said that Yañez worked as a tow truck operator and occasionally helped his father as a laborer, according to García. He was separated from his wife and three children, who live in Ensenada.
Christian Ramirez, national coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, called the shooting “another abuse of authority by Border Patrol agents.”
“We are very concerned by this pattern of violence along the U.S.-Mexican border,” Ramirez said.
He said he heard different versions of what may have happened.
Mexican human rights organizations have said that Yañez was walking toward a car impound lot, to recover his vehicle that had been stolen earlier in the week. He was to meet his wife there, Ramirez said.
“We have not confirmed whether Jose Alfredo was trying to enter the United States, was throwing rocks, or a passerby,” he said.
The four other fatal shootings since 2008 occurred in San Diego, Arizona and Texas.
In August 2008, a 23-year-old man was shot on Mexican soil west of the San Ysidro border when Border agents opened fire after being subject to a rock attack by a group of people suspected of trying to illegally enter the United States.
In 2010, an agent shot and killed a 15-year-old boy who authorities said was throwing rocks at him near the border in El Paso. In January, a 17-year-old who was also said to be throwing rocks was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent near Nogales, Ariz.
In March a 19-year-old U.S. citizen who was allegedly running from agents was shot and killed near Douglas, Ariz. after a rock throwing incident.
The Border Patrol reports that 20 agents in the San Diego sector have died in the line of duty since 1925 including Agent Robert Rosas Jr. who was ambushed and killed in July 2009 near the border fence in Campo.