Family and Friends of Mexican Teenager Shot 14 Times By Border Patrol Demand Justice

Oct 20, 2012
10:19 am

This week in Nogales, Mexico—right across the Arizona city with the same name—family and friends of slain teenager José Antonio Elena Rodríguez walked the dead boy's casket by the border fence to protest his death at the hands of the US Border Patrol. According to reports, border agents from the US side shot Elena Rodríguez 14 times, hitting him with seven bullets. Border agents claim that Elena Rodríguez was smuggling marijuana and began to shoot when he and another individual started throwing rocks at the agents.


During the funeral, El Diario de Sonora reported that the procession decided to take the casket outdoors to protest Elena Rodríguez's death. As the procession approached the international border, a US Border Patrol van was watching from the other side of the street. One young person in the procession made a lewd gesture to the patrol van, while another women screamed "Fuck you" and "Chinga to madre" at the van. There was more screaming at the van, while the procession reached the exact point where Elena Rodríguez was shot. Then around hundred balloons were released by children and adults, while one women shouted, "We know you are in the heavens, but we demand justice!"

The LA Times ran a piece that digs deeper into this story, the use of force against rock throwing and growing border tensions. Here is an excerpt:

Under agency guidelines, repelling rock attacks with bullets can be regarded as a justifiable use of force in part because rocks have inflicted serious injuries on agents. But critics have grown increasingly vocal at the frequency of such incidents and what they call a lack of transparency in follow-up investigations. Wednesday's confrontation was the third incident since September; at least 15 civilians have died in agent-involved confrontations since 2010.

"The disproportionate use of lethal force in the exercise of immigration control functions is unacceptable under any circumstances," the Mexican Ministry of Exterior Relations said in a statement. "These kinds of acts, especially because they are recurring, have been rejected by Mexican society and all of the country's political powers."

The FBI has launched an investigation. Mexican authorities, who interviewed witnesses outside the bullet-marked medical office building where the teenager was shot, are also investigating. They urged that the US inquiry be "exhaustive, timely and transparent."

Agents in such cases are rarely prosecuted. Investigations typically conclude that they acted in self-defense. US Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that the agency's "law enforcement personnel are trained to use deadly force in circumstances that pose a threat to their lives, the lives of their fellow law enforcement partners and innocent third parties."

The circumstances surrounding some recent cases have raised questions among critics who fear a culture of impunity has taken hold among US border agencies. Some people who died have been shot in the back. Some were teenagers throwing rocks from long distances who didn't seem to pose an immediate threat to agents, critics say.

In September, Guillermo Arevalo Pedroza was killed on the banks of the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo after agents on an airboat allegedly came under a rock attack. Mexican officials say he was picnicking with his family.

"This father was not trying to cross the border; he was trying to pass a good day with his kids," Mexican President Felipe Calderon told the Wall Street Journal in an interview last month.

The video claiming to show Arevalo Pedroza's killing was posted on YouTube in September. It has gotten over 46,000 views.

As for Elena Rodríguez and his family, the Chicago Tribune reported that the family plans to file a civil suit against the US Border Patrol.