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Autopsy: BP agent shot migrant 4 times during deadly incident in rugged Az mountains

Autopsy: BP agent shot migrant 4 times during deadly incident in rugged Az mountains

Carmelo Cruz-Marcos was shot twice in left cheek & in chest, abdomen in fight with Border Patrol agent

  • Border wall construction near Guadalupe Canyon, just along the U.S.-Mexico border in June 2021.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comBorder wall construction near Guadalupe Canyon, just along the U.S.-Mexico border in June 2021.

A Mexican migrant was shot four times by a Border Patrol agent—twice in the face and twice more in the chest—during a fatal incident nearly two weeks ago in remote part of Southeastern Arizona, according to a just-released autopsy report.

The two gunshots to the face of Carmelo Cruz-Marcos went from left to right at a "slightly downward" angle, while that two wounds to his chest went from his left to his right, slightly back to front and upward, Dr. David C. Winston, a forensic pathologist with the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, wrote in the autopsy. He added that the wounds to his face traveled from left to right and "slightly downward, but due to potential crossed paths front/back deviation cannot be determined."

Cruz-Marcos was shot and killed on Feb. 19 when Border Patrol agents tracked down a group of suspected migrants in a rugged mountain range about 30 miles northeast of Douglas, Ariz. Cruz-Marcos, originally from Puebla, Mexico was part of a group attempting to skirt through the rugged Peloncillo Mountains when they were located by two Border Patrol agents mounted on horses.

The agent told investigators that he fired his weapon an "unknown number of times" when he shot and killed Cruz-Marcos, said Carol Capas, a CCSO spokeswoman. The agent said that he attempted to apprehend Cruz-Marcos, but that the 32-year-old man threw a punch, and then attempted to run down into a canyon. The two men scuffled, and then Cruz-Marcos threatend the agent with a rock, officials said.

The shooting remains under investigation by the Cochise County Sheriff's Office and federal officials.

"In consideration of the known circumstances surrounding this death, the available medical history and the examination of the body, the cause of death for Carmelo Cruz Marco is ascribed to multiple gunshot wounds," Winston wrote in the autopsy provided to the Tucson Sentinel on Friday,

Details from the autopsy shows that Cruz-Marcos was about 5-feet 4-inches tall, and weighed 159 pounds. He had a tattoo of a Buddha and a flower on his right upper arm where one of the bullets that hit his chest —ripping through both lungs—exited.

The Mexican Consulate decried the shooting, writing in a statement that they condemned "any act of unjustified violence against migrants." They added that consulate staffers interviewed the migrants who were taken into custody, and would be monitoring the situation.

The BP agent, who has not been named, told investigators that when he attempted to apprehend the man, a suspected migrant in the country without permission, the agent was struck multiple times during a struggle. The agent fired his weapon as Cruz-Marcos picked up a "large rock" and made a "throwing motion," CCSO's Capas said the agent told investigators.

The incident's details echo other shootings that have occurred in Southern Arizona, when Border Patrol agents told investigators they were responding to the potential of a thrown rock when they fired their weapon in self-defense. Since 2010, Border Patrol agents have killed 58 people in shootings along the nation's borders, and in several of those cases, agents have said that they responded with force after people threw or moved to throw rocks.

The Southern Border's Communities Coalition, an advocacy group, sharply criticized the investigation, writing on Feb. 23 that "there are multiple red flags in this investigation," and arguing that CBP "wasted no time in undermining the investigation, underscoring ongoing concerns about the integrity of misconduct investigations at the nation’s largest law enforcement agency."

The group has been critical of the agency's use of Critical Incident Teams—agent trained in forensic science who routinely arrive at major scenes and gather evidence. CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus—the former chief of the Tucson Police Department—defended CITs calling them "vitally important as many critical incidents involving CBP operations occur in remote locations where other agencies may be unwilling or unable to respond."

"In the case of serious incidents involving CBP personnel, the evidence collection teams are sometimes called upon to assist CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility or other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies as they conduct investigations," Magnus wrote. "These teams do not lead investigations, they collect evidence. Without CIT teams, specialized expertise such as accident recreation and analysis would be absent, hindering the oversight process."

"This is another horrific tragedy at the hands of Border Patrol agents," said Vicki B. Gaubeca, director for SBCC. "We urge our congressional members in Arizona to demand a full and transparent investigation into this matter. So far, we have only seen problematic and questionable actions taken by officials who are investigating this incident."

She wrote that it is "important for the public to know" that Cochise County Sheriff's Department is "conducting a separate, independent and full investigation, and that the FBI also conducts an independent, comprehensive and public investigation."

According to details released last week by CCSO and U.S. Customs and Border Protection—Border Patrol's parent agency—the agent was working as a member of a BP horse patrol with a partner, and the two were responding to sensors tripped by a group of about 16 people attempting to skirt through the rugged Peloncillo Mountains, about 30 miles northeast of Douglas, Ariz.

Around 9 p.m., the agents dismounted from their horses because of the rough terrain, and spotted a group of people who immediately scattered, CBP officials said.

One BP agent chased two men uphill, while the other agent chased a man downhill. The agents were able to apprehend the men, and then spotted a fourth man under a tree. That man, Cruz-Marcos, broke into a run, attempted to escape by "running downhill into a canyon," CBP said, and the agent chased him. Both the agent and Cruz-Marcos tripped and fell several times until the agent grabbed him, Capas wrote.

The agent told investigators that Cruz-Marcos turned and "struck him in the left shoulder" and his fist glanced the agent’s cheek. The agent tackled Cruz-Marcos, who went face down in a crouch with his hands under his body, and he refused to "changed his position," Capas wrote. "The scuffle reportedly continued" and the man "threw his elbow backwards into the agent" and managed to get up, she said.

The autopsy showed that Cruz-Marcos had a bruise on his right check and neck, as well as a cut on his scalp.

Cruz-Marcos, Capas wrote," then ran approximately six feet away before picking up a large rock and turning back towards the agent making a throwing motion with the hand that held the rock."

The agent told investigators that he "fired his weapon an unknown number of times as he was in fear for his life and safety," Capas wrote.

The Pima Medical Examiner's Office confirmed last week that Cruz-Marcos died as a result of "multiple gunshot wounds."

The second agent ran to his partner, and found the man on the ground. The agents requested medical assistance, but determined that Cruz-Marcos was dead. As they waited, additional agents, including members of Border Patrol’s Search, Trauma, and Rescue Team and a Border Patrol paramedic, arrived at the scene, CBP said. While searching the surrounding area, Border Patrol agents apprehended two additional undocumented migrants who were part of the same group, the agency said.

By 10 p.m., Border Patrol officials alerted the Cochise County Sheriff's Office to the incident, officials said.

The remoteness of the scene may have contributed to some confusion about the incident's details, including the shooting's location.

Capas said Border Patrol officials initially reported that a man was seriously injured in the rugged mountains near Skeleton Canyon, and that several other people, suspected of being in the U.S. without authorization, had been detained by agents. Noting that the "investigation is in the preliminary stage," CCSO initially stated that "early indications are that one male subject, presumed to be an illegal immigrant, was fatally wounded by a Border Patrol agent," but later edited that post on social media, removing that part of their account.

Largely a dirt trail that connects Douglas to ranches along the U.S.-Mexico border, Geronimo Trail begins near the Douglas airport and then runs east for about 15 miles along the border toward the Slaughter Ranch. There it heads northeast into the increasingly rugged Peloncillo Mountains, and toward the Arizona-New Mexico border.

Capas said that deputies and detectives with CCSO responded to the incident, but they delayed recovering the man's body until Sunday morning to "allow for the safety of detectives" and other law enforcement personnel. Along with CCSO, a helicopter from the Arizona Department of Public Safety was brought in to help officials access the rugged terrain, and "process the scene."

The man's body was airlifted from that location and later transported to the Pima County Medical Examiner as part of the investigation, she Capas. PCOME conducts autopsies in Cochise County cases under a contract.

On the Sunday evening following the incident, Capas wrote that CCSO deputies had "just cleared the scene," and the investigation was ongoing.

SBCC criticized the delay, writing that "Instead of the CCSO processing the scene immediately, they waited a day." The group also criticized the fact that other migrants at the scene were taken into custody, and moved to a Border Patrol station. The group also worried that CCSO failed to collect forensic evidence until the next day, but instead, "ceded the incident area to border agents who could have tampered with the scene."

Along with CCSO, the incident will be reviewed by the Office of the Inspector General with the Department of Homeland Security and CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility.

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