October 13, 2012
by Bob Ortega
As more details emerge about the shooting death late Wednesday of a 16-year-old Mexican boy in Nogales, Sonora, by a Border Patrol agent, Mexican authorities increasingly are questioning whether lethal force was needed.
The FBI, and Mexican federal and state police, are carrying out parallel investigations into the incident.
Nogales Mayor Ramon Guzman Munoz told the Associated Press that Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was shot seven times. Various news reports by Sonora broadcasters and newspapers described anywhere from five to 14 bullet holes on the wall of the building beside which the body was found.
Elena Rodriguez's death - following more than a dozen similar incidents along the U.S.-Mexico border since 2010 - has provoked condemnation from Mexican authorities and outrage in Mexican news media, in particular over the number of times the youth allegedly was shot. Twitter messages and comments on Mexican news sites routinely condemned the shooting as an "asesinato," or murder.
This is the fifth incident in Nogales since mid-2010 in which Border Patrol officers resorted to force after youths threw rocks at them. In three of those cases, agents fired their guns, killing a 17-year-old boy in January 2011 and wounding a man in January of this year.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mike Friel said Saturday that the agency's "law-enforcement personnel are trained to use deadly force in circumstances that pose a threat to their lives, the lives of their fellow law-enforcement partners and innocent third parties."
Mexican officials have questioned the use of force before and filed diplomatic protests on several occasions, but Customs and Border Protection has not changed its policies on use of force in recent years, said Friel.
Sonora state police released a statement saying they found Elena Rodriguez's body, "with various gunshot wounds on different parts of the body," shortly after 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, lying next to the curb on Calle Internacional, a street that runs along the border fence. The body was found four blocks from the border crossing in downtown Nogales, at a spot where there is roughly a 10-foot vertical drop from the base of the fence to the street below.
According to the Border Patrol, several agents responded Wednesday night to reports that drug smugglers were carrying bundles into the U.S. As agents saw two men fleeing back into Mexico, people on the other side of the fence began to throw rocks at the agents. Agents ordered them to stop and when they didn't, an agent fired his weapon, hitting one of them, an agency spokesman said.
In interviews aired by several Mexican broadcasters, alleged witnesses said the youths were throwing rocks to prevent the Border Patrol from arresting the two men who were trying to climb back over the border fence after dropping bundles of drugs.
Ricardo Alday Gonzalez, a spokesman for Mexico's Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Friday that Mexican authorities will closely monitor the U.S. investigation into the incident, and cooperate with the FBI and other U.S. agencies, to "provide whatever support is necessary to ensure a transparent, exhaustive and accountable process in the United States."
He said Mexican federal and state law enforcement also "will not hesitate to request whatever assistance they require" from the FBI or other U.S. agencies.
The Border Patrol has declined to say what weapon the agent involved in Wednesday's incident fired. They also did not reply to queries about whether that agent is currently on leave.
The standard service firearm for Border Patrol agents is the .40-caliber Heckler & Koch pistol, which carries a 14-round magazine. Agents also have the option to carry an M-4 carbine identical to the one used by the U.S. Army, which has semiautomatic and automatic settings, Friel said. On the semiautomatic setting, the trigger must be pulled to fire each round; on the automatic setting, the rifle can fire multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger.
Border Patrol agents have access to non-lethal alternatives. In May of last year, for instance, a Nogales-based Border Patrol agent fired several rounds from a pepper-ball launcher at a suspected drug smuggler who was throwing rocks at him, and completed the drug seizure without injuries on either side.