Border Officials Clear Agents in Four Deadly Force Cases

WASHINGTON (Tribune Washington Bureau/TNS) -

Border officials for the first time have publicly released the conclusions of internal investigations of agents who opened fire while on duty, ruling that officers had acted properly in four shootings.

The reviews were conducted by an internal panel that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service set up to address a troubling pattern of agents’ use of deadly force, according to a summary of the reviews published online Thursday.

In one of the cases, agents fired repeatedly at the engine of a so-called panga boat smuggling immigrants off the coast near Solana Beach in San Diego County on June 18, 2015. The agents who shot at the boat acted “in compliance” with agency policy, the panel concluded. Following the shots, the boat collided with the agents’ boat and capsized, sending 20 people into the water. One woman drowned.

Two other incidents, one in May 2012 in Nogales, Ariz., and the other in October 2014 in Escobares, Texas, a town in the Rio Grande Valley, involved agents firing on people who were throwing rocks. A fourth shooting, on July 22, 2014, in Edinburg, Texas, also in the Rio Grande area, involved an agent who fired on a suspect who was holding a rifle and running from local police officers.

The shootings were reviewed by the National Use of Force Review Board, a panel created in December 2014 after reports that agents were shooting at people throwing rocks and in some cases had deliberately stepped in front of moving vehicles to justify shooting at the drivers.

After reviewing the shootings, the panel made nine recommendations for policy and operational changes. Details about those reforms were not made public.