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Man dies after allegedly assaulting BP agent while in custody in Douglas

A Mexican man died in the early morning hours Tuesday after allegedly assaulting a Border Patrol agent while in custody near the U.S.-Mexico border in Douglas, Ariz., authorities said.

In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection — Border Patrol's parent agency — said around 12:43 a.m., a Border Patrol agent working near Pan-American Avenue and 5th Street in Douglas, about five blocks from the border crossing, was "involved in a use-of-force incident, which resulted in the death of an individual" in custody.

Officials remained tight-lipped about the incident, refusing to say how the man was mortally wounded by the agent, including whether he was shot, injured by one of the agent's "less-lethal" weapons—which include a baton and tasers—or that he died from a medical issue. The man's name has not been released by U.S. officials.

In a statement, the Consulate of Mexico in Douglas confirmed the man's death, saying in a statement he died after "grappling" with an agent.

Consul Ricardo Pineda Albarrán said that he believed the migrant was taken into custody after illegally climbing the border fence, and he was taken to the Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee because he told agents he was injured. However, later, after being treated and taken back to Douglas, he may have attempted to escape and "something happened while he was in custody," said Pineda, adding there was "some kind of struggle."

"We really don't know the circumstances," Pineda said.

Douglas police officers responded to the incident, along with federal officials, including the FBI, Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General, and CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility.

CBP said the incident remains under investigation by the FBI and "any inquiries should be directed to that office."

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"The FBI is conducting an investigation into the assault of a federal officer which occurred near Douglas, AZ, in the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 24, 2022," said Brooke Brennan, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Phoenix field office. "This is an ongoing investigation. No other information can be released at this time."

"The Mexican Consulate in Douglas has demanded an exhaustive investigation from the US authorities in order to clarify the facts and establish responsibilities if necessary," Mexican officials said in a statement. 

"The Mexican Consulate in Douglas is already in contact with the man's family, who have been offered consular support and assistance," said Pineda. "We regret this incident, and the man's death. We fully condemn any violence against any migrants."

The man's body was transported to the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office in Tucson for an autopsy. PCOME conducts autopsies in Cochise County cases under a contract. The Tucson Sentinel has requested a copy of the autopsy report when it is completed.

North of Douglas, man shot and killed

The man is the second person to die in a confrontation with a Border Patrol agent in the area this year.

In February, Border Patrol Agent Kendrek Bybee Staheli fatally shot 32-year-old Carmelo Cruz-Marcos during a confrontation on a moonless night on Feb. 19 in the rugged mountains north of Douglas. Cruz-Marcos, originally from Puebla, Mexico, was part of a group of about 10 people who attempted to skirt through the Peloncillo Mountains about 121 miles east of Tucson, where they were located by two agents. 

Staheli and his partner Agent Tristan Tang were assigned to horse patrol, and spent most of the day tracking a group of suspected migrants, managing to catch up with at least seven people, who immediately scattered as the two men closed in on rough terrain full of scrub and loose rocks.

Staheli told investigators with the Cochise County Sheriff's Office — who led the investigation after the FBI demurred — that when he attempted to apprehend Cruz-Marcos, the man threw a punch, which glanced off the agent's shoulder and hit him in the jaw. The two men struggled, and eventually Cruz-Marcos broke free, and picked up a rock.

Staheli told investigators that as Cruz-Marcos cocked an arm back to throw the rock, he fired his weapon an "unknown number of times." Staheli fired four rounds from his 9mm Glock 19, hitting Cruz-Marcos twice in the face and twice in the chest.

Seven men were eventually apprehended, and according to investigators, they did not see the altercation between Staheli and Cruz-Marcos. However, two men told CCSO detectives that before the shooting, Staheli threatened one man, telling him "Shut up or I will shoot you." Multiple witnesses said that Staheli told another man, "This is America, motherfucker."

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U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva demanded a review of what he called "unjust killings" by Border Patrol, and asked Homeland Security's Inspector General to review the shooting, as well as a crash that killed two people and injured four near Amado, Ariz.

On May 11, the Cochise County Attorney's Office announced they would not pursue charges against Staheli, arguing that his actions "appear to be justified under Arizona law."

Even as investigators reviewed the shooting, Chris Magnus, the head of CBP said the agency would eliminate the Border Patrol's Critical Incident Teams after humanitarian and civil rights organizations said the units worked to "cover up" shootings involving agents.

Magnus, the former chief of the Tucson Police Department, vowed to eliminate the teams by October. This comes after the teams — BPl agents trained in forensic science who routinely arrive at major scenes and gather evidence — were blasted by advocacy groups over their involvement during the early hours of investigations of deadly and other serious incidents.

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