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Autopsy shows BP agent stabbed Mexican man twice during Douglas incident

A Border Patrol agent stabbed a Mexican man twice in the chest during a fatal incident in Douglas, Ariz., just over three weeks ago, according to a just-released autopsy report.

Abigail Roman Aguilar, 32, suffered two stab wounds in his chest. One wound was in his upper left chest, puncturing his internal jugular vein, and, the second wound went through his right lung, wrote Dr. Kevin M. Lougee, a forensic pathologist with the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.

On May 24, Aguilar crossed the U.S.-Mexico border near Douglas and was intercepted by Border Patrol agents, Lougee wrote. As he ran from the agents, Aguilar became tangled up in barbed wire and was taken to a nearby hospital for stitches, he wrote. After Aguilar was discharged from the hospital, he somehow ended up in an altercation with a BP agent, "during which time he was stabbed with a knife," Lougee wrote.

Aguilar died at the scene, wrote Lougee. While the death occurred in Cochise County, the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office in Tucson conducts autopsies for the neighboring county under contract.

According to the autopsy Aguilar was about 5' 1" tall and weighed around 122 pounds. The words "Angel David" were tattooed on his right shoulder, and "Josue" was on his left arm. Along with the stab wounds, he had abrasions on the left side of his forehead, a small bruise on his nose, and one on the left side of his face. Above his eye was a small sutured cut.

Lougee said the first wound punctured the skin and soft tissues of Aguilar's left upper chest and his left internal jugular vein, leading to a soft-tissue hemorrhage and bleeding in his chest cavity. The wound was about 1.5 inches deep and ran from front to back at an upward angle.

The second wound was about 1 inch long, and sliced through the skin and soft tissues of Aguilar's right upper chest, punching through cartilage and his right lung, causing more bleeding. The wound was about 2 inches deep and ran from front to back, right to left at a downward angle.

"In consideration of the known circumstances surrounding this death, the available medical history, and the examination of the remains, the cause of death is sharp force injuries of the trunk," Lougee wrote.

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A toxicology screen did not show any drugs in Aguilar's blood, according to PCOME.

In a statement released just after the incident, U.S. Customs and Border Protection — Border Patrol's parent agency — said around 12:43 a.m. on May 24, 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.

It remains unclear why the agent stabbed Aguilar. Following his death, 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.

Many BP agents carry knives, including multi-tools and folded blades, but the use of a knife is incredibly rare among use-of-force incidents involving agents.

The Consulate of Mexico in Douglas said he died after "grappling" with an agent.

Consul Ricardo Pineda Albarrán told TucsonSentinel.com in May he believed Aguilar 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. John Owen, a spokesman for the Douglas Police Department, later said his agency was not part of the investigation, and referred questions to the FBI.

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

"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 U.S. 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."

North of Douglas, man shot and killed

Aguilar 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 Feb. 19 , a moonless night 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."

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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