TUCSON (CN) — A federal judge found a Border Patrol agent justified in killing a suspected drug smuggler who was climbing a ladder over the border fence as the agent was being pelted with softball-sized rocks.
The ruling put an end to a civil rights lawsuit from the mother of Carlos LaMadrid, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen who was shot to death by Border Patrol Agent Lucas Tidwell on March 21, 2011, in Douglas, a border town southeast of Tucson.
U.S. District Judge James Soto found that Tidwell shot at someone who was throwing rocks at him from the top of a 10-foot border fence, and that LaMadrid was “injured in the cross fire.”
The incident began when Douglas police got an anonymous tip from someone who said he saw men loading a gold Chevrolet Avalanche with bundles of marijuana.
Douglas police Officer Marcus Gonzalez spotted the Chevy and tried to pull it over, but LaMadrid ignored the sirens and sped through the streets of Douglas toward the border at 65 to 70 mph, according to Soto’s April 25 findings, which followed a seven-day bench trial last July.
At the border fence, which separates Douglas from Agua Prieta, LaMadrid stopped near a pre-placed ladder just as Tidwell came on the scene. The Avalanche sped directly toward Tidwell’s vehicle and hit its front corner, Soto found.
LaMadrid and an accomplice jumped out of the Avalanche and ran to the ladder. Officer Gonzalez testified at trial that he saw two people on top of the fence — one helping LaMadrid over and the other throwing rocks the size of softballs and bricks at Tidwell.
“As one of the rocks slammed against his windshield, Tidwell simultaneously fired one shot through the windshield as he was in the process of exiting and drawing his gun,” Soto wrote.
Out of the vehicle now and with rocks raining down, Tidwell fired several shots at the rock thrower while LaMadrid climbed the ladder.
“As LaMadrid climbed into the direct line of fire from Tidwell to the rock thrower, he was struck by some of the bullets aimed at and intended to stop the deadly actions of the rock thrower,” Soto wrote. “Upon being struck, LaMadrid fell from the ladder. His associates on top of the fence then jumped off the fence onto the Mexico side, hopped into a vehicle, and quickly sped away from the scene. LaMadrid later died from the wounds he received.”
LaMadrid’s mother, Guadalupe Guerrero, argued at trial, among other things, that the federal government, Douglas police and the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department conspired to cover up evidence that Tidwell had “either intentionally shot LaMadrid, or otherwise engaged in other illicit actions.”
But Soto found the theory “unsupported, unconvincing, and not consistent with the evidence.”
He also was skeptical of the testimony of two Mexican construction workers who were nearby and claimed they had not seen anyone throwing rocks from the top of the fence. Soto noted that both witnesses had “grudgingly admitted that they had illegally entered the United States on numerous occasions, had been apprehended by Border Patrol, and were sent back to Mexico after their apprehension.”
“The credible evidence presented at trial reflected that Tidwell was justified in his use of deadly force under the very dangerous and rapidly evolving circumstances of this case,” Soto wrote.
Guerrero was represented at trial by William Risner, who did not return an email request for comment Friday.
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