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FBI: No evidence of attack in death of Border Patrol agent in Texas

Injured partner may have told dispatcher: 'We ran into a culvert.'

The FBI said Wednesday that an investigation into the November death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent near El Paso has not found evidence that there was “a scuffle, altercation, or attack.”

In a statement, Emmerson Buie Jr., the FBI special agent in charge, said that his agency had investigated multiple theories of how Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez, and his partner, ended up seriously injured during an incident on Nov. 18, 2017 just outside of Van Horn, a border town about 110 miles southeast of El Paso.

The FBI conducted more than 650 interviews and conducted dozens of searches in attempt to confirm whether the agent were “ambushed or attacked or whether their injuries were a result of an accident or any other criminal activity,” Buie said.

Martinez was on patrol when he and his partner responded to “activity.” Later, his partner reported that they were both injured and needed help, said U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

According to an autopsy released Tuesday, Martinez died from "blunt force trauma," and had suffered multiple bone fractures, including a skull fracture, a fractured eye socket, and rib fractures. 

BP union representatives quickly claimed after the incident, with graphic details, that the pair of agents had been "ambushed by a group of illegal aliens.”

Lawmakers and the Trump administration also quickly used Martinez's death as a talking point to demand more enforcement along the border. 

However, evidence collected during the investigation may show that Martinez's death and the injuries to his partner were simply an accident. 

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During a phone call with a Border Patrol dispatcher, Martinez's partner made a statement to the effect of "We ran into a culvert," Buie said. 

“Although disoriented and unsure of his location, the second Border Patrol agent advised that both he and Agent Martinez were hurt. The second Border Patrol agent also made a statement to the effect of, ‘We ran into a culvert,’ ‘I ran into a culvert,’ or 'I think I ran into a culvert.’” Buie said. 

“The dispatcher also wrote into a Border Patrol log, ‘[He] thinks they (both agents) ran into a culvert,’” Buie said. 

Following Martinez’s death, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot called the incident "murder" and promised $20,000 for information that led to the arrest of anyone involved in the "attack." U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX, sent out a statement claiming that the "murder" of Martinez and the injuries to the other agent, were a "stark reminder of the ongoing threat that an unsecured border poses to the safety of our communities and those charged with defending them." 

President Donald Trump tweeted his own push for a border wall, writing: "Border Patrol Officer [sic] killed at Southern Border, another badly hurt. We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible. We will, and must, build the Wall!" 

Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents Border Patrol agents, told the Washington Post that Martinez died of blunt force trauma to the head.

"I have been told by several agents that it was a grisly scene, and that his injuries were very extensive," Judd said. "We believe he was struck in the head with rocks, or multiple rocks." 

During a press briefing in December, Buie said the FBI was investigating the death as an attack, but would consider other possibilities, the Texas Tribune reported. 

"There are a number of possible scenarios. However, in this instance we are going to pursue the one that is most challenging as it's presented to us, which is potential assault," Buie said. 

Investigators had also considered the possibility that Martinez and his partner were sideswiped by a semi-tractor trailer's side mirror traveling on Interstate 10, sending the two men into the culvert below, reported the Dallas Morning News.

During the investigation, the FBI filed for a search warrant to investigate two “persons of interest” but Buie said that forensic analysis had determined that the men did not have “anything to do with the death of Agent Martinez and the injuries to his partner.” 

Also, Buie noted that during the FBI’s investigation several people were arrested in Portales, N.M., and charged with human smuggling. However, those people were not connected with the incident that killed Martinez. 

Buie said that the FBI will continue investigating and that the agency was still offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information that leads to the case’s resolution.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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