MAY 01, 2012
Mexico has issued the U.S. government what amounts to a diplomatic threat for exonerating a Border Patrol agent who shot an illegal immigrant near the Texas border nearly two years ago after being assaulted with rocks.
The shooting occurred in the summer of 2010 when the federal agent, Jesus Mesa, spotted a group of Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande near El Paso. U.S. authorities say Mesa fatally shot a teen (Sergio Hernández-Guereca) traveling with the group in self-defense after the teen and his friends threw rocks at the agent.
Last year a Texas judge dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. government but allowed a lawsuit against the agent to proceed. The Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) has spent the last two years conducting a “comprehensive and thorough investigation into the shooting” in an effort to file federal criminal charges against the Border Patrol agent.
But a few days ago the DOJ conceded that there is “insufficient evidence” to pursue federal criminal charges against Mesa. “The U.S. government regrets the loss of life in this matter, and the Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security devoted significant time and resources into conducting a thorough and complete investigation,” the DOJ says in a statement.
The lengthy probe was conducted by an army of federal officers from the FBI, Homeland Security Inspector General and top prosecutors from the DOJ’s bloated Civil Rights Division. They interviewed dozens of law enforcement and civilian witnesses and collected, analyzed and reviewed evidence from the scene of the shooting. This included civilian and surveillance video, police radio traffic, emergency recordings and volumes of Border Patrol agent training and use of force material.
Agent Mesa’s training, disciplinary records and personal history were also scrutinized. The team of experienced DOJ prosecutors examined the shooting as a possible violation of U.S. criminal and civil rights laws, but the incident did not meet the standard. Evidence indicated that the “agent’s actions constituted a reasonable use of force or would constitute an act of self-defense in response to the threat created by a group of smugglers hurling rocks at the agent…” the feds concluded.
They further determined that no federal civil rights charges could be pursued in this matter since applicable statutes require prosecutors to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right. That means with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. Again, after a thorough review, the experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents concluded that the evidence was insufficient.
The decision has been met with anger among Mexican government officials who have threatened to launch an international investigation. The Spanish-language news media presented the story as the exoneration of the American agent who assassinated a Mexican youth. In a diplomatic note from its secretary of foreign relations, Mexico’s government chastised the DOJ’s decision not to criminally charge the Border Patrol agent.
Mexico has also threatened to conduct its own investigation into the DOJ’s handling of the case and has warned the U.S. to assure that Mexicans’ fundamental rights are being respected. The teen’s family, which lives in Mexico, has sued Agent Mesa despite the DOJ’s decision not to criminally charge him.
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