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Border Patrol’s use of deadly force: Rock throwers

Border Patrol searching immigrants
Border Patrol searching immigrants
U.S. Border Patrol

On February 19, 2014, two Border Patrol Agents were tracking a group of suspected undocumented immigrants in a canyon near Otay Mesa, California, just north of the Mexican Border. After the agents separated, one came upon an individual climbing a steep incline who began throwing rocks, one as big as a basketball, according to reports, and one struck the agent in the face. The agent verbally warned the suspected illegal immigrant to cease his actions, then fired at least two shots, striking and killing the suspect.

Currently, the FBI, the U.S. Border Patrol and local law enforcement are investigating.

Border Patrol Agents are often assaulted by rock throwers. Most of the Border Patrol vehicles in areas like Nogales, Arizona, where I personally patrolled, are retrofitted with a heavy wire shell that protects both the vehicle and the occupant(s) from rocks and other debris.

Agents can often retreat to a safer area; use cover and concealment to thwart the efforts of the rock thrower(s) and generally diffuse a potentially deadly situation.

Yet rock assaults leading to the use of deadly force do occur. According to a Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General report, 185 rock assaults occurred in Fiscal Year 2012. 121 agents did not respond with force; 42 responded with “less lethal force” and 22 responded with their firearms.

Less lethal force

The United States Border Patrol and most other law enforcement agencies have an array of “less lethal” weapons which can be used. Tasers, shotguns equipped with beanbag ammunition, pepper ball guns and other variations of such weaponry can be, and is often utilized to diffuse a confrontation with rock thrower(s).

In instances where the situation cannot be diffused by backing away or by taking cover and there is an ongoing threat of immediate potentially serious bodily injury, an agent can use either “less lethal” force, such as bean bags from a shotgun or lethal force which consists of any weapon the agent has available to him.

Justified use of deadly force:

A Border Patrol Agent generally can only use deadly force if that person, his partner, or an innocent third party is threatened with serious bodily injury or death.

In isolated and rural areas, an agent does not always have “less lethal” alternatives available and, when confronted with a potentially deadly assault, has either to retreat, get behind cover if possible or use deadly force to neutralize the assailant. In a rock assault, an agent who perceives his life, his partner’s life or the life of a third party to be in jeopardy can legitimately use deadly force to neutralize the attacker.

Although not easily palatable to the average civilian, the use of deadly force is justified if a reasonable person would believe that the assault likely will result in serious bodily injury or death to his life, the life of his partner or the life of an innocent third party.