Few public repercussions in deadly force cases

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Associated Press

Posted on December 16, 2013 at 12:02 AM

Updated Monday, Dec 16 at 1:02 AM

PHOENIX (AP) — An examination by an Arizona newspaper has found that Border Patrol agents who use deadly force face few public repercussions, even in cases in which the justification for the shooting seems dubious.

The Arizona Republic reports Sunday (http://bit.ly/1bR05wz) that on-duty Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers have killed at least 42 people, including at least 13 Americans, since 2005.

These deaths — all but four of which occurred along or near the southwest border — vary from strongly justifiable to highly questionable. CBP officials say agents who use excessive force are disciplined.

But they won't say who, when, or what discipline, with the exception of a short administrative leave. In none of the 42 deaths is any agent or officer publicly known to have faced consequences from federal agencies or the courts.

CBP leaders refuse to release their policies, the names of agents who use deadly force or whether deadly force was justified.

CBP, Homeland Security and Border Patrol officials declined repeated interview requests from The Republic, agreeing only to a limited, off-the-record discussion from which the agency would approve a few limited statements. CBP officials declined to discuss the agency's lack of transparency on the record.

The Department of Homeland Security, the agency over the Border Patrol and CBP, didn't immediately respond to a request Sunday afternoon from The Associated Press for comment.

Acting Deputy CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said CBP doesn't control the release of information or pace of investigations, pointing to the FBI and Homeland Security.

The Republic found the vast majority of Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers respond to conflict with restraint. Even when facing potentially deadly force, most agents and officers don't turn to their firearms. But agents who killed mostly did so under circumstances virtually identical to hundreds of encounters that other agents resolved without lethal force and without serious injuries to either side.

In the last four years, rock-throwing incidents at the border accounted for eight of the 24 instances in which agents killed people. The Border Patrol considers rocks deadly weapons that justify lethal force, even though it is rare for agents to be injured in such incidents, The Republic found.

The vast majority of rock-throwing incidents occur in a few, well-known, mostly urban spots along the border. But the Border Patrol doesn't require agents working in those areas to carry or use less-lethal alternatives.

Border Patrol agents do face dangers. Of the 22 who died in the line of duty in the last nine years, most died in vehicle or training accidents. Four died in direct conflicts with aggressors, including one case in which Border Patrol agents fired on one another.

Of the 42 use-of-force fatalities, some — such as the five cases in which agents shot and killed people who fired at them first — provoked little dispute.

But in nine of the 24 use-of-force deaths since 2010, agents' accounts were contradicted by other witnesses or by other law-enforcement officers, the Republic reported. In three cases, widely distributed videos conflicted with agents' reports of what happened.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

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