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Supreme Court agrees to hear cross-border shooting case

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Supreme Court agrees to hear cross-border shooting case

  • Josh Denmark/Texas Tribune

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday it would consider a controversial Texas case involving a cross-border shooting that ended with the death of a 15-year-old boy at the hands of a Border Patrol agent.

Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca was killed in 2010 by agent Jesus Mesa Jr., who was patrolling the banks of the Rio Grande in El Paso during what was called a “rock-throwing incident.” Hernandez was on the Mexican side of the international boundary in Ciudad Juárez when Mesa fatally shot him from the Texas side.

The teen’s family initially sued the federal government, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security and Mesa, alleging the teen’s civil rights had been violated.

A district judge initially dismissed the charges, because Hernandez was a Mexican national and was on Mexican soil when the shooting occurred. But an appellate court ruled in 2014 that Mesa could be sued in his individual capacity although the American agencies could not.

In April 2015, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dealt the family another setback when it sided with the agent and said the case could not proceed because Hernandez was south of the Rio Grande when the shooting occurred.

The case sparked outrage in Ciudad Juárez after a video of the shooting surfaced and showed Hernandez was unarmed. But the American government said the teen was a “coyote” or smuggler that helped undocumented immigrants traverse the desert landscape into El Paso from the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Hernandez's family said the boy wasn't a criminal. 

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the family for stepping forward and filing suit, arguing that agents needed to be “held accountable for shocking and outrageous abuse” according to a statement in 2014. But the United States Border Patrol union said that allowing the suit to move forward would make agents more likely to question whether to use deadly force and in turn, place themselves in harm’s way.

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