Border Patrol Sued for Cross-Border Killing
LAREDO, Texas (CN) - From a boat in the Rio Grande, Border Patrol agents "opened fire" on families gathered at a park in Mexico and killed a man in front of his wife and two daughters, the family claims in Federal Court.
Nora Isabel Lam Gallegos, the widow of Guillermo Arevalo Pedraza, sued the United States, former Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, six Border Patrol agents and several of the Border Patrol's top brass, on behalf of her daughters.
"During the afternoon of September 3, 2012, Arevalo, his wife, Nora, and his daughters, P.A.L. and M.A.L., were enjoying a quiet family picnic at Los Patinaderos Park in Mexico near the bank of the Rio Grande River," the complaint states.
Lam says they went to the park to celebrate her birthday and her two daughters' birthdays.
"As the family laughed, played, and cooked with others alongside the river, the agents, without warning or provocation, opened fire on the crowd. Two bullets struck Arevalo - one in the abdomen and one in the leg," the 49-page complaint states.
"Agents who gunned down Arevalo were in a Border Patrol airboat on the United States' side of the river. After Arevalo fell to the ground, covered in blood, his wife began to scream, 'They killed him, they killed him, they have killed him.'
"The agents in the airboat quickly fled the scene of their crime, rendering no assistance to the dying Arevalo. Instead, the agents left Arevalo dying from the gunshot wounds in the arms of his 9-year-old daughter, M.A.L., with his wife and older daughter standing only feet away."
Lam says that before the shooting the agents spotted a swimmer who reached the United States, then jumped back in the river and began swimming for the Mexico side when he heard a boat.
The agents cut the swimmer off with their airboat and began harassing him, Lam says.
"They hit him with their boat hooks and blasted him with bursts of water from the vessel's propeller. The swimmer was clearly having trouble coping with the fast-moving current and the waves from the airboat. Watching him struggle for air, the families on the Mexican side of the river began to shout at the agents to stop before they killed the man," according to the complaint.
"Without warning or provocation, the agents opened fire on the Mexican families, spraying rounds across the river, over the border, and into Mexico."
Lam claims that agent Christopher Boatright fired the bullets that killed her husband.
The Border Patrol, which is formally known as Customs and Border Protection, issued a press release claiming the agents fired because rocks were thrown at them from the Mexican side of the river.
But numerous witnesses said nobody threw any rocks, and a cellphone video of the incident shows the agents were "far beyond the distance" any thrown rock could have hit them, Lam says.
She claims that rock throwing is the Border Patrol's go-to excuse for such killings, and that the agency has a misguided "Rocking Policy" that deems rock chucking lethal force that justifies agents "shooting to kill" the alleged hurlers.
The complaint lists 12 other Border Patrol killings of Latinos along the border dating back to 2003.
In each case the Border Patrol claimed the victim had been throwing rocks at agents, or threatening them with rocks, when they were shot.
"In July 2012, just a month before Arevalo's death, Border Patrol agents shot and killed Juan Pablo Santillan. Like Arevalo, at the time of the shooting Santillan was at the bank of the Rio Grande, but agents claim that others were throwing rocks, prompting them to shoot and kill Santillan across the border in Mexico," the complaint states.
Santillan's survivors sued the Border Patrol in July.
Their complaint was prompted by the 5th Circuit's June 30 ruling in the case of Sergio Hernandez Guereca, a Mexican teenager whom Border Patrolman Jose Mesa shot dead along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2010.
The 5th Circuit court found that U.S. law enforcement officers do not have immunity against cross-border killings when the shootings amount to "arbitrary conduct that shocks the conscience."
Lam seeks punitive damages for violations of the Law of Nations, and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
She is represented by Robert Hilliard with Hilliard Munoz Gonzales of Corpus Christi. Hilliard is also representing Hernandez Guereca's parents in their litigation.