After Shootings, Extended Silence: What The Border Patrol Hasn't Said

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The U.S. Border Patrol is becoming more transparent, according to the commissioner who oversees it. 

Still, there is much the agency has yet to disclose.

The agency has repeatedly used deadly force along the U.S.-Mexico border while providing little or no information about what happened or why. What follows are the stories of four notable killings that have raised unanswered questions between 2010 and 2014.

Morning Edition followed some of these stories — both reporting our series in March and since it aired.

Juarez, Mexico: June 7, 2010

This shooting came near a border bridge that crosses from El Paso, Texas to Juarez, Mexico. Graffiti on the Mexican side, positioned so the U.S. Border Patrol can see it, reads: "We judge the assassins in Mexico."

While reporting Borderland, we met near the bridge with Maria Guadelupe Guereca Betancourt. She's a Jaurez resident, and a mom. When I asked how many kids she said, she replied, "There were  seven."

Now there are six. Her son Sergio was shot and killed. He was 15.

Between El Paso and Juarez, the border is the Rio Grande. More precisely, it's a culvert, with sloping concrete walls, and little water. It's easy to walk down into the channel. Maria Guereca acknowledges her son did walk down in that culvert on June 7, 2010. He went out of curiosity, she says, to watch the Border Patrol chase other teens. Kids would cross the culvert to touch the fence on the U.S. side.

The Border Patrol said it wasn't curiosity. The agency contended people in the culvert were trying to sneak across the border.

A bystander took cell phone video of what happened next. The blurry video shows Border Patrol agents descending into the culvert. An agent grabs a suspect by the collar. Other people in the culvert throw rocks. Clutching the suspect with his left hand, the agent aims a weapon with his right. He's aiming at a person some distance away. That person is Sergio. The teenager was killed with a bullet below his left eye.

The teenager's family sued, but their case was thrown out of a U.S. court. The court found that since the teenager was killed on the Mexican side of the border, his family had no standing to sue.

Maria Guereca told us she doesn't believe justice was served.

"Sometimes," she says of her son, "I think he's coming home. Then I remember he's not."

The Border Patrol said the agent fired to protect himself from rocks being thrown from the Mexican side. It is common that agents are pelted on the border. Yet another side of the case was revealed when The Arizona Republic under the Freedom of Information Act. One document was the original incident report of the agent who shot Sergio. It was heavily redacted, but still illuminating.

"The account that the agent gives is different than the account that the Border Patrol put out in a public statement at the time," says Bob Ortega of the Republic. "At the time, they said that the agent fired because he was surrounded by rock throwers, the implication being that he had no alternative. The actual incident report that he filed, he doesn't mention anything about being surrounded by rock throwers."

In fact, the report says the agent shot a teenager who was 20 to 25 yards away from him.

The Justice Department issued a statement finding no violations of Border Patrol policy. The government has not disclosed exactly how the agent's life was in danger from an unarmed teenager at such a distance.

 

Continue reading and listen to the NPR report:
http://www.npr.org/2014/06/09/320220093/foi-request-sheds-some-light-on-border-patrol-shootings