First known federal indictment of an agent for killing in nearly 100 years
Southern Border Region: On Wednesday afternoon a federal grand jury indicted Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz on a second-degree murder charge for a cross-border shooting that killed 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. The indictment allows for a criminal trial to proceed.
The Border Patrol has alleged that Elena Rodriguez was among a group of rock-throwers who were standing in Nogales, Mexico. But his family says the boy was walking home from a basketball game with friends and wasn't armed or throwing rocks. An autopsy revealed Elena Rodriguez had been shot about 10 times.
The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) has been at the forefront in the call for accountability and oversight for incidents involving use-of-force and has been instrumental in raising attention to the systemic abuses within Customs and Border Protection (CBP) which has allowed for a culture of impunity to reign.
In response to the news about the indictment, Andrea Guerrero, Co-Chair of the Southern Border Communities Coalition and Executive Director of Alliance San Diego, released this statement:
The Southern Border Communities Coalition applauds the Department of Justice for bringing criminal charges against a Border Patrol agent who killed Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, an unarmed 16-year-old who was shot 10 times from across the border while walking along a street in Nogales, Mexico, nearly three years ago.
This is the first known federal indictment of a Border Patrol agent for the killing a border resident. In the nearly 100 history of Border Patrol, no agent has ever been convicted for killing community members. If this indictment leads to a conviction, it will be historic.
SBCC, the families, and communities we stand with, urge state and federal authorities to thoroughly investigate and prosecute border agents use of excessive and deadly force. The border agency that is now called Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the largest law enforcement agency in the country and yet, it continues to operate with near total impunity.
Prosecutors strengthen our democracy when they hold agents accountable and demonstrate that no agent is above the law. Vigorous prosecution of border agents would go a long way in ending what has long been recognized as a culture of violence and impunity within Border Patrol, and its parent agency CBP.
This case represents a breakthrough, yet there is much more work needed to end a culture of abuse and impunity at Border Patrol. Since 2010, at least forty people have been killed by Border Patrol, including Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, and no justice has been served. Other notable cases include:
Anastasio Hernandez Rojas: A longtime resident of San Diego, California, and father of five, Anastasio was killed on May 28, 2010 by a group of border agents who surrounded, hogtied, beat and shot him with a Taser multiple times in front of eyewitnesses at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. More than five years later, a federal investigation is still pending and no criminal charges have been brought.
Sergio Adrian Hernandez: Only 15-years-old and a resident of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Sergio was killed on June 7, 2010, by an agent who shot him across the international bridge for allegedly throwing rocks. Sergio had been playing games with his friends when he was shot in the head by an agent. Federal authorities have closed the investigation and declined to prosecute, citing insufficient evidence.
Valeria Munique Tachiquin: A citizen of the United States, was killed on September 28, 2012, by a plainclothes border agent in a residential neighborhood in Chula Vista, California, who shot Valeria nine times through a car windshield as she attempted to distance herself from the agent, who was a man not known to her, who was not identifiable in plain clothes and who was not searching for her. The status of the criminal investigation is unknown and no criminal charges have been brought. This tragic incident occurred 12 days before the killing of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez.
The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) brings together more than 60 organizations from San Diego, California, to Brownsville, Texas, to ensure that border enforcement policies and practices are accountable and fair, respect human dignity and human rights, and prevent the loss of life in the region.