June 22, 2011

SAN DIEGO – In the wake of another fatal shooting of a rock thrower by U.S. Border Patrol, the San Diego ACLU called for reform of the agency's use of lethal force policies and practices. As widely reported in the media, last night, a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot and killed a suspected border crosser who was throwing rocks at agents. The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, citing recurring instances of disproportionate use of force at the U.S.-Mexico border, called on Border Patrol to come clean about its habit of shooting rock throwers and make a change.

“We simply cannot allow our law enforcement agents to use lethal force when confronted with rock throwers except in the most extreme and unusual of circumstances,” said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “We’re still waiting to hear all the facts of this incident, but, regardless, our law enforcement agencies need to find new ways to handle such situations and avoid the unnecessary taking of human life. Shooting someone who is throwing rocks should not be part of the Border Patrol playbook.”

According to news sources, this latest incident took place last evening, when a Border Patrol agent shot Jose Alfredo Yañez Reyes. 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.

Numerous shootings of rock-throwers have taken place in recent years. As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, "In the 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, Texas. 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, Arizona. In March a 19-year-old U.S. citizen who was allegedly running from agents was shot and killed near Douglas, Arizona after a rock throwing incident."

Another 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.

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, as 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, these circumstances should rarely, if ever, arise when confronting rock-throwers. In those situations, agents can use less than lethal weapons or remove themselves from the range of the rocks being thrown.

After the 2008 incident, a coalition of human rights organizations called for independent oversight of federal law enforcement agencies and some transparency to the investigation. The current system allows investigating agencies and prosecutors to never reveal what really happened and whether the use of force was justified.


Coalition Press Release on 2008 Rock-Throwing Incident

border patrol lethal force PR 8-15-08.pdf

2008 Letter Calling for Congressional Investigation

Kennedy Lofgren letter 08-15-08.pdf