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Border Patrol agents shot & killed armed man near San Luis in October
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Border Patrol agents shot & killed armed man near San Luis in October

incident occured on U.S. soil, but south of border fence

  • A salinity canal leads to the 'double-layer' border wall near San Luis, Ariz. in 2016.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA salinity canal leads to the 'double-layer' border wall near San Luis, Ariz. in 2016.

Border Patrol agents shot and killed an armed man during a confrontation just south of the border fence near San Luis, Ariz., more than three weeks ago, authorities said.

On Sunday, Oct. 30, a surveillance camera operator spotted six people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border about two miles west of the San Luis Port of Entry, about 15 miles southwest of Yuma. The camera operator noticed one of the people crossing the border was carrying a handgun, wrote John Mennell, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

The camera operator radioed agents with a Border Patrol Tactical Unit "working in the area," and relayed the information, wrote Mennell.

Around 7:09 p.m., the agents encountered the group around 300 yards from the U.S.-Mexico. During the confrontation, three agents fired their weapons, striking and killing one man, later identified only as Mexican citizen. A handgun was found near the fallen man, said Mennell. Four people were taken into custody by the Border Patrol agents, and one person fled into Mexico, he wrote.

It remains unclear why the agents fired their weapons that evening.

San Luis Police Department officers, along with agents from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General and CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility responded to the scene. SLPD refused to comment on the incident. 

The Mexican consulate in Yuma said the man killed was identified as a Mexican citizen after his fingerprints were analyzed. The consulate also said in a statement that the man killed was "allegedly the guide of the group" that crossed into the U.S.

The consulate said they were "in constant communication with the authorities conducting the investigation to follow up on the development of the case," and were working with the man's family to return his remains.

While the shooting occurred in the United States, a source not authorized to comment said the man was killed just south of the border fence. The border near San Luis is largely backed by border barriers, including "double layer" fencing in some areas, backed by lights and new sensors. However, some sections have gates to allow access to fields, and salinity canals duck under the border barrier in some sections.

A FBI spokeswoman said the agency "had no update to report" and referred Tucson Sentinel to the statement released by CBP on Nov. 5.

This is the fifth fatal incident involving Border Patrol agents in Arizona this year, and one of nearly two dozen use-of-force incidents involving agents in the Yuma Sector—which straddles the Colorado River and includes San Luis—and the Tucson Sector, which runs from Yuma County to the New Mexico border.

This includes two car crashes involving smugglers, a shooting in rugged terrain in southeastern Arizona, and an incident near Douglas, Ariz. when an agent stabbed a man twice while grappling with him.

The shooting is under investigation by the FBI, the San Luis Police Department, and CBP's OPR, said Mennell. Along with DHS's OIG, the incident will be reviewed by CBP's National Use of Force Review Board following the investigation by the FBI and others.

Earlier this year, CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus announced he would eliminate the agency's Critical Incident Teams, shifting the immediate investigation of fatal and serious incidents from the increasingly-controversial teams to OPR. Magnus, the former chief of the Tucson Police Department, was installed by the Biden administration to help reform the agency, however, on Nov. 12 he resigned after he was told to quit or be fired. 

Review board created after critical report

CBP established the board, known as NUFRB in December 2014, following a sharply-critical report of the agency's use-of-force investigations. In Feb. 2013, the Police Executive Research Forum—a nonprofit research and policy organization with close ties to police agencies—evaluated 67 deadly force incidents involving Border Patrol agents from January 2010 to October 2012 and determined the agency suffered from a "no-harm, no-foul" approach that lead to "tacit approval of bad practices."

The group also questioned the agency's seriousness with regard to deadly force incidents, writing: "It is not clear that CBP consistently and thoroughly reviews all use of deadly force incidents."

A year later, a report by the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a review board of eight senior and retired law enforcement officers including former Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor, showed that the agency continued to lack the ability to investigate agents.

The NUFRB reviews cases "that have completed the investigative process and have been declined for prosecution by either a U.S. Attorney, state or local prosecutor," said CBP,  adding the board reviews "whether use of force is within policy; whether there is possible misconduct associated with the application of force; and whether lessons can be learned from the incident in terms of techniques, tactics, policy, training and equipment."

Fatal incidents in Arizona

On a moonless night on Feb. 19, Border Patrol Agent Kendrek Bybee Staheli fatally shot 32-year-old Carmelo Cruz-Marcos, who 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.

Cruz-Marcos was shot four times by Staheli during the fatal incident.

The Cochise County Sheriff's Department investigated the incident, along with the FBI and others. In May, the Cochise County Attorney's Office said they would not pursue charges against Staheli. Cruz-Marcos family demanded an independent investigation of the violent incident, and set the stages for a federal lawsuit.

On May 24, 32-year-old Abigail Roman Aguilar, died after suffering two stab wounds in his chest. Aguilar became tangled up in barbed wire and was taken to a nearby hospital for stitches, but sometime after he was discharged from the hospital, he ended up in an altercation with a BP agent, "during which time he was stabbed with a knife," wrote a forensic pathologist with the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.

Meanwhile, there were two fatal crashes involving Border Patrol agents.

In March, two people were killed and four were seriously injured when a pickup truck pursued by U.S. Border Patrol agents crashed and rolled over on the frontage road parallel to Interstate 19. Around 11 p.m., a Border Patrol agent attempted to pull over a truck running northbound on the East Frontage Road near Amado, Ariz. and the driver fled. During the chase, the truck ran off the frontage road, rolled, and smashed into several trees, ejecting people from the bed, said a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

The driver and one passenger were pronounced dead at the scene, and four other passengers were transported to the hospital with serious to life-threatening injuries, DPS said. A Cochise COunty

In July, a U.S. citizen died in a crash near Benson after he fled from multiple law enforcement officers, including U.S. Border Patrol agents and a Cochise County Sheriff's Deputy. The deputy attempted to pull the driver over near Tombstone and McNeal, but the driver refused to yield. The deputy "stopped the pursuit due to the driver's erratic driving" and instead, issued a "be-on-the-lookout" bulletin. About two-and-half hours later, two Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint spotted the driver, and another agent joined in the chase in his own unmarked vehicle.

One agent raced ahead and "deployed a vehicle immobilization device," but despite hitting the spikes, the driver continued north of State Route 80. Another agent also hit the spikes, flattened a tire, and abandoned the chase. A supervisory Border Patrol agent ended the pursuit because it was getting close to Benson, however, an unmarked Benson Police Department vehicle instead gave chase, and the agent watched as the suspect vehicle crashed into a GMC Yukon.

The driver and a passenger in the Yukon were treated at the scene. The driver of the fleeing car was seriously injured, and was flown to Banner University Medical Center in Tucson. A male passenger in the car, identified only as a U.S. citizen, died at the scene. Two migrants who were also in the vehicle were treated for minor injuries.

In September, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva and other members of Congress pressed CBP officials to publish new guidelines for vehicle pursuits by agents after an "11-fold" increase in fatal crashes from 2019. In a Sept. 13 letter, Congressional Reps. Grijalva and Kirkpatrick—joined by Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso—wrote that by Aug. 15, there have been 21 deaths linked to CBP vehicle pursuits, putting 2022 “firmly on track to be the deadliest year on record” for incidents involving BP pursuits. Grijalva added that 2022 could “potentially” surpass 2021, when there were 22 “pursuit-related deaths,” according to publicly-available data.

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