First American Agent Charged for Cross-Border Shooting of Mexican

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on October 13, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The first American agent charged for a cross-border killing pled not guilty to second-degree murder last week. Border Patrol agent Lonny Swartz will face trial next month for the 2012 shooting of 16-year-old Mexican Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez.

Swartz is accused of shooting into Mexico at Rodriguez and hitting him ten times, with eight shots to the back. He says he acted in self defense, responding to rock throwing by the boy, and is supported by Tucson Border Patrol colleagues.

First Trial, 33rd Death

The case is getting a lot of attention in the US and Mexico, as it is the first time that an American agent has faced murder charges for shooting a Mexican on Mexico's soil. Although there have reportedly been 33 deaths stemming from border control agents' encounters with Mexicans since January 2010, the facts at issue here seem particularly egregious.

On Oct. 10, 2012, Swartz opened fire into Mexico, emptying his .40-caliber pistol, reloading, and then pulling the trigger again, according to court documents. The bullets struck 16-year-old Rodriguez, who collapsed on the sidewalk.

Border Patrol officials said the teenager was throwing rocks at its agents. Witnesses, however, said the boy was peacefully walking down the street. There is reportedly video of the shooting that has not yet been released publicly.

Nogales, a Distinctive Border Area

Nogales, Arizona borders Nogales, Mexico and the slain teenager lived four blocks from a port of entry to the United States. His American grandparents lived just across the border and Rodriguez sometimes spent the day at their house in the U.S. while his Mexican mother was at work.

"He was a citizen of Mexico with a foot in the United States," Taide Elena, the boy's grandmother, told the New York Times.

Peter J. Spiro, a constitutional law professor at Temple University, spoke to the newspaper about this case and about Nogales, the place itself. He remarked on the ruling by a Federal District Court Judge to allow the boy's family's civil suit to go forward based on Fourth Amendment protections denied other Mexican litigants. That ruling, said Spiro, acknowledges the location's uniqueness.

People living and working on either side of the Nogales border have a stake in each other's countries. "[The decision] says that this border area is distinctive and is not as clear a line as the fence makes it seem."

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