Border Patrol Faces Little Accountability After Shootings
Just two months after a Border Patrol agent shot her 16-year-old son in Nogales, Sonora, Araceli Rodríguez Salazar sensed silence spreading over the case.
“I’m tired of crying. I’m tired of waiting. I want justice,” she said on a recent afternoon, standing outside her humble home on a downtown hillside.
If the pattern holds, she’ll be waiting much longer.
Even as the number of shootings by agents increases, the system for holding them accountable remains complicated and opaque, leaving the public in the dark about the status of the cases, an Arizona Daily Star investigation has found. One Arizona case has remained secret and “ongoing” for almost three years.
As questions of accountability grow louder, shootings by Border Patrol agents continue - primarily in Arizona. In the last three years agents have shot at least 22 people nationwide. Nine of those cases have been in Southern Arizona - four in the last two months and two just last week.
Since January 2010, there have been at least six cross-border shootings by agents, including the one that killed Rodríguez-Salazar’s son, José Antonio Elena Rodríguez. When killed, he was on a sidewalk across the 36-foot-wide street along the border.
Two people were on the border fence when agents arrived at about 11 p.m. Rocks flew, though police reports leave it unclear who threw them, and at least one agent fired into Mexico.
Elena Rodriguez was hit at least seven times - twice in the head and five times in the back. The walls next to him were pocked with bullet holes.
“What would have happened if a Sonoran police officer had opened fire and shot a 16-year-old walking along the street in Arizona?” asked Kat Rodriguez of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, a human-rights advocacy group in Tucson. “We all know the response would be very different, and it shouldn’t be.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office oversees the investigation, and local agencies - such as a sheriff’s department - may also investigate whether state laws were broken. In Elena Rodriguez’s case, the local agency was Sonoran state police, who responded on their side of the border.
Who’s in charge, and what happens from there? That’s a tougher question. Even Jim Calle, a Tucson attorney whose job is to defend Border Patrol agents involved in shootings or accused of misconduct, can’t pinpoint the process.
“I’ve been doing this for more than a decade, and it’s still confusing to me,” Calle said. “That’s how the federal government operates. They’re slow. It’s opaque, and they (the investigations) are always difficult.”
Read the whole article. Tim Steller is a good journalist. He also wrote a blog post about non-lethal cases of abuse by Border Patrol agents.
The Department of Homeland Security has an office, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, that receives complaints of abuse, and the Tucson-based organization No More Deaths has made ample use of it in recent years. They’ve complained especially about suspected abusive behavior by agents in the Border Patrol’s detention facilities.
I spoke with two No More Deaths volunteers, Sarah Roberts and Molly Little, who were main authors of the group’s 2011 report, A Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody. They showed me report after report that they made to the DHS civil rights office, only to have that office ask the Tucson Sector Border Patrol to look into it. The Border Patrol would regularly find nothing wrong, Roberts and Miller said.
Data I received from DHS last week backs up their contention that the office has frequently asked the Border Patrol to investigate its own agents.