tv Fault Lines Al Jazeera October 30, 2013 5:30pm-6:01pm EDT
>> jose antonio elena rodriguez was 16 when he was killed with a bullet through the head by the united states border patrol. nine more shots went into body, as he lay on the ground in his hometown, nogales mexico. the bullets fired from the top of this cliff in arizona traveled through an international boundary, and into a legal vacuum. the agent has never been named. >> jose antonio was found on the sidewalk.
the report clearly indicate that he did not have any type of weapon in his hand, any type of rock. any type of... nothing he had a cell phone in his pocket!! why did the border patrol shoot jose antonio elena rodriguez? and why are questions involving his death met with silence? tonight, fault lines examines the nations largest law enforcement agency and asks who is holding them accountable when they pull the trigger. >> people here call this ambos nogales, or both nogales. but a steel fence built in the name of national security divides this border town. i've come to meet jose's family they live just blocks from where
are still riddled with bullet holes. now, the border patrol's explanation for what happened hinges on the fact they say their agents were threatened by somebody throwing rocks on this side of the fence. but standing here, the first thing you ask yourself is: could a 16 year old boy really threaten somebody standing on top of what's at least a 20 foot cliff, and on the other side of that fence? whatever took place here that night, there's video cameras right there which recorded everything that happened. but the border patrol and federal investigators have refused to share that surveillance video, so we're left to piece together the clues. on the night jose died, the nogales, arizona police report describes border agents pursuing two different young men as they climbed the fence back into mexico. at the same time, on the sonoran street below the fence, isidro alvarado happened to be walking home from work.
>> so where were the agents, when you saw them firing? >> so it would seem the agents meant to fire at the fleeing men a questionable use of force to begin with. but isidro says jose was just walking down the street as the boys ran away. >> attorney roberto montiel took us to the spot the agents fired from on the us side.
>> there's no way that the officer that was on top this hill was in any kind of danger first of all, i don't think you can hurl a rock, from where jose antonio was, over an 18 foot fence, which is pure steel. >> if this was 15 shots, fired into and at a young man who was just walking down the street, how do you describe that? what is it that took place here? >> at best, it's negligent homicide, at worst, it could be murder.
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>> the us government closed the investigation. zelma says she was never contacted. in 2012 guillermo arravalo pedroza, was picnicking on the banks of the rio grande when he was killed by agents. he died in his nine year old daughters arms. juan pablo parez satillan was shot near matamoros just two months earlier. in 2011, in tijuana, a witness says jose alfredo yanez reyes was killed for using his cell phone to record an agent beating a migrant. and sergio hernandez guerica was shot between the eyes under a bridge in juarez. in each case, the border patrol justified the killings saying they were threatened by rock-throwers. but getting them to speak on the record about anything at all proved difficult.
>> hi bill, this is wab knew calling from al jazeera english. we're down in nogales az right nowso i'm just calling to see if we would be able to arrange an interview and a ride along with an agent out here. >> well, we've sent emails, about, starting about six weeks ago. >> and why is that? >> yeah. >> yeah, it just seems a little opaque like i'm just trying to understand why the request was declined. >> what's happened is that with the border patrol being one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the country, they work with a population that doesn't work back with them. they're not like a police force that's in the same community that has to deal with
residents that are upset that can vote that can sort of mobilize against them. it's a population that almost everyone is going to be kicked out, going to wind up in mexico, and because of that there hasn't been any ways in which they have to modify their activities, so there's almost no oversight, which is compounded by this idea that this is part of national security. when someone looks at a case like jose antonio elena your like this does not have anything to do with national security! right? this doesn't! >> in the twilight hours, when most of the country is sleeping, we're out there. >> after 911 the border patrol rewrote it's mission. >> "it is the job of the border patrol to prevent terrorists from entering the united states" >> there was a huge push to hire agents and build up the force on the border. so the government produced these flashy promo videos, spent millions of dollars sponsoring a race car and recruited heavily at professional bull-riding events in an effort to fill the
hiring quotas. to speed the build up, job requirements were lowered: no need to graduate high school, or even get a ged. and customary lie detector tests and screenings were deferred or ignored. even defenders of the border patrol admit this was problematic. >> it was so fast, that they were hiring people and they weren't able to complete the background investigations before these people started working on the job. that was crazy. mandatory training was reduced from 5 months to 58 days, especially impacting spanish instruction. the agency is now twice the size it was in 2004. >> we protect america are you up to the challenge? >> art del cueto is a border patrol agent and president of the tucson chapter of the largest border patrol union in the country. though his agency won't meet with us, he's agreed to talk to
us off duty. >> we're the first line of defense for the country. if i wasn't an agent, and i did not work for the united states border patrol, i would want somebody out here that had a little bit of a rah-rah attitude, where he really truly took his job serious and wantedto defend the country. that's my view on it. >> so there's been a few officer-involved shootings at the border that have gotten a lot of attention lately 16 year old guy from the mexican side jose antonio and he was shot by a border patrol agent from the us side does that trouble you? >> well, we have several shootings, i can't freely speak about that one, because they're still looking into it. but what people don't understand when they say rocks the agents were rocked. i don't know what people's concept of a rock is, but it's huge rocks. it's not these little rocks. it's huge rocks. in, in areas that are populated, like closer to nogales, at times what they throw is it's chunks of cement!
that are broken off the sidewalk. it's a dangerous job. >> there've been 16 deaths of border patrol agents in the last 5 years. thirteen of those were accidents. two agents struck by a freight train, one died when his vehicle hit a bull. another was killed by friendly fire. in five years, three were killed through assault. >> there was a systematic study done a couple of years ago that border patrol has lower incidence of violence used against themthan municipal police departments. >> statistically, the more than 20,000 agents who patrol the country's border have one of the safest law enforcement jobs in the country. in fact, one of the larger problems, is boredom. >> it doesn't mean that it's never dangerous. there are bandits out there, there are drug organizations what they're not really getting is preparation for the boring
non-risky reality of almost all their career. >> this can lead to lethal over-reactions, says heyman, who's been studying the use of force within the border patrol for much of his career. > you build up this urge to do something. this desire to be effective, a can do type of officer instead of having learned routines for how to handle the situation without risk to others. instead you have this kind of instinctive excitement. >> he says they aren't trained to de-escalate, or pull back out of risky situations. for those living along the border, this can mean the difference between life and death. in 2010 agent jesus mesa shot sergio adrian hernandez guarico under this bridge on the edge of juarez mexico. the us mexico border runs
through the middle of the canal. >> sergio and some of his friends who live on the mexican side of the border often were in that dry ravine, and they were there on that summer evening as well. >> a witness filmed what took place with a cell phone. bobbie mcdow was on the bridge that day too, and later provided this sworn statement to attorney bob hilliard. >> a border patrol agent grabbed a hold of the one basically came into his arms. and he had his weapon in his right arm, and the young man in his left hand. i was very very worried i didn't feel there was any reason for him to have pulled his gun. >> he started firing his weapon, into mexico. [gun shots] >> the border patrol guy aims, and you hear two shots..and one hits sergio right between the
eyes. >> after the shooting stopped, i'm looking around and i see that there's someone on the ground underneath the black bridge. and i remember saying to my husband, "is that a body?" and he says, "yes". >> so there's no indication that there was something to justify lethal force? >> there's a fabricated fbi report that came out the very next day before they realized there was a video, that claimed the border patrol agent was surrounded and being pelted by rocks and in fear for his life. >> hilliard read this fbi statement to bobbie during her sworn testimony. this was her response: >> that was not true. there was no one surrounding him throwing rocks. >> what happened next points to a problem unique to killings that cross international lines. sergio's family tried to sue the
agent who shot their son. but the federal judge in el paso dismissed the case. though the bullet traveled from the us, it landed in mexico. the united states constitution and any accountability did not travel with it. >> you have a child whose family cannot seek redress within the civil justice system for that conduct and it occurred only because of the vacuum which is our border. it's like walking out into the wild wild west and you're standing there at high noon and whatever you do is not reviewed anymore.
protests along the border. we're following protestors as they march to the site where 16 year old jose antonio was killed in nogales. but as in other cross-border killings, the agent may never be tried since jose died on the other side of the international line. no one from the office of inspector general, fbi or attorney generals office will tell us if the agent is still on patrol. and even getting answers about when and how agents are trained to pull the trigger is difficult. unlike most law enforcement agencies, the border patrol's use of force guidelines are not made public. copies obtained through freedom of information act requests are heavily redacted. but attorney jim calle who's
represents agents accused of misconduct, including cross-border shootings says there's nothing to hide. >> in the vast majority of the cases it is very clear cut in the sense of there is a deadly force threat made against an agent and the agent has to resort to the use of deadly force in response. border patrol agents are subject to at least 5 levels of scrutiny every time they pull the trigger. their conduct is so scrubbed by the time two years and three years past which is sometimes the length of time it takes for these investigations to wrap up. because it takes so long, people think the process is corrupt. they think that agents don't have no accountability for their use of deadly force. people start to speculate look, border patrol, they can pull a gun and shoot and kill people and it doesn't matter. >> but former border patrol agent ephraim cruz says a lack of accountability is actually the crux of the problem.
he was an agent for almost 10 years in the tucson sector. disturbed by what he described as a pattern of cruelty among his colleagues withholding food from migrants in custody, needless crowding, name-calling he started reporting abuses to his superiors. he says he was met with silence, framed, and eventually forced to resign. >> no one from the u.s. border patrol, office of inspector general, u.s. attorney's office, customs and border protection, dhs, congress has reached out to me. this a senior border patrol agent, one of their guys, reporting observed abuses of detained migrants. what do you think they're going to do when it's an outsider? >> do you feel as though allowing those less serious forms of abuses paves the way for the more lethal officer
involved cases. >> when they see there is no consequence for misdeeds, they think, "if i get myself into a situation out in the field i can do whatever the hell i want.". and what you see is the delay tactic answers such as "the investigations are on-going" and "pending." and what eventually happens is, you find yourself mired in the investigation is forever going. >> and you believe that that's a deliberate tactic? >> purposeful. absolutely. >> here in nogales, the san juan bosco center is a short-term refuge for recent deportees who arrive by the dozens every day. their stories of trying to
reunite with family, or find work are vivid reminders of why so many risk their lives at the border. >> here at san bosco, hannah hafter helps deportees like santo salinas who have been separated from loved ones or who have health issues. she sees the rise in cross-border shootings as a symptom of larger issues within the border patrol. >> the kinds of situations that we see in border patrol are beyond what people could invent. it's everything from literally being like punched and kicked, to being forced to hold uncomfortable positions for no reason for hours at a time, to being pushed into a cactus or pushed down a hill. >> and she says the problem goes all the way to the top. >> we submit complaint after complaint after complaint to the department of homeland security, and we get form letters saying that they've been received, and there's really no outcome to exposing the abuses within the
system. >> we're heading to the customs and border patro headquarters in washington dc right now. we've trying for months and months to get an interview with anybody from the organization and we've been unsuccessful. so we're going to try our luck at the door. we've spotted one of the men we've been trying to reach first in command thomas winkowski. >> hey mr. winkowski? what we're looking at is a case of officer involved shootings at the mexican line, and... >> okay. >> and we'd like to know why is it that rock-throwing justifies... >> give me your card and i'll.. >> why is it that rock-throwing justifies lethal force? >> give me your card and i'll do it. i'll have my public affairs.. >> literally for six months we've been asking michael and jenny both to speak to us. >> okay. >> and they haven't gotten back to us. >> okay. >> and we're on a deadline, today, which is why we're up here, and we're actually trying to get an answer from you today.
>> he said he would pass it on to you guys and that we could get an interview... >> the answer is no we can't do this. we want to help you as best we can, but we can't do the interview. >> the public affairs officers promised to answer written questions instead, but by the time we went to air, had failed to respond. >> people are investigating a lot right now whether or not jose antonio was involved in drug trafficking or crossing the border or throwing rocks. but the big question is really whether or not it should be ok to kill someone for trafficking drugs, whether or not it should be ok to kill someone for throwing a rock. and i think most people would say that no, that's not ok. if you can't have that type of discussions because everything is behind this wall, this idea
that this is about national security and stopping terrorism then how are you supposed to really provide security that works for human beings? >> jose antonio's mother araceli catches a bus to work just a block from where he was killed under the shadow of the fence, a constant reminder that her son's killer has not been brought to justice.
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