Board Finds Border Agents Broke Rules in Shooting at Cars

Dec 5, 2019
12:10 PM

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

By COLLEEN LONG, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Four Border Patrol agents didn’t follow department rules when they opened fire in two separate incidents along the U.S.-Mexico Border, both involving agents shooting at drivers who were trying to speed away, a review board has found.

The two cases were among seven shooting incidents reviewed by the National Use of Force Review Board. Most of the agents in the seven cases were found to be compliant with the border agency’s use of force policy, according to case summaries obtained by The Associated Press.

The board meets quarterly to review instances of shootings by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It was formed after a major overhaul of the agency’s force policy in 2012 following a rash of shootings that sparked public outrage. The cases can take years to arrive to the board, arriving after a completed criminal investigation in local police.

One 2014 incident took place at a Otay Mesa port of entry in San Diego, where agents shot at a pickup truck driven by a suspected carjacker. No one was injured. The most recent case reviewed was from 2017, in which an agent drew his weapon and fired after an incident where he was struck over the head with a glass beer bottle. The agent was injured. Those cases were found to be compliant with policy.

But three of the four agents involved in a March 14, 2016 incident with a stolen pickup were found not to have followed the rules when they fired at the driver, who was trying to speed away. One agent fired on the tires.

The three agents were suspended —two for 14 days and one for seven— and were required to undergo training.

In a 2015 case, an agent fired on an SUV in a rural area in San Diego County that’s known for smuggling after the SUV charged them. A second agent also fired, despite not knowing the location of his partner and the the risk of hitting the partner. No problems were found with the first agent’s actions, but the second agent was given a letter of reprimand.

Chris Bishop, a CBP official, said cases arrive to the board for review after a criminal case by a local law enforcement agency is closed, and after prosecutors have decided not to file charges, a process that can take anywhere from a few weeks to years. From there, the review board does its own investigation into the incident, which sometimes includes a videotaped walk-through of the shooting by the agents who fired.

The review board then determines whether the shooting was in compliance with Customs and Border Protections’ policy, which states the application of force must be objectively reasonable and necessary.

The seven-member board is made up of representatives from Customs and Board Protection, the Department of Justice, Homeland Security’s office of civil rights and civil liberties and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Complaints of excessive force prompted the border enforcement agency to commission an audit and investigation by the Police Executive Research Forum, a research and policy group. The 2013 audit highlighted problems that included foot-patrol agents without access to less-lethal options, and it recommended law enforcement not be allowed to use deadly force when people throw rocks—a suggestion that was rejected.

Since then the number of times agents fire their weapons has dramatically decreased.

There were 15 instances where officers and agents used firearms during the budget year 2018, down from a high of 55 was reported during the 2012 budget year, and down from 17 during 2017’s budget year and 25 the budget year before. The 2019 year hasn’t been made public yet.

Now-Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan, at the time the acting assistant commissioner in charge of internal affairs, led the effort to create the board.