Tucson, AZ — Lonnie Swartz may become the first US Border Patrol agent to be convicted of murder in a cross-border shooting.
A federal grand jury indicted Mr. Swartz for second-degree murder on Wednesday in the 2012 death of 16-year-old Mexican citizen Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez.
The teenager was standing in Mexican territory, unarmed when the predatory agent shot him 10 times through the border fence. Rodriguez’s family said he was simply walking home from a basketball game.
The Border Patrol claims that their agent’s life was in danger, and Rodriguez was part of a group throwing rocks. Even if the teen picked up a rock, it is known that agents will open fire instead of simply moving out of the way, according to a report published in June.
Sean Chapman, Mr. Swartz’s attorney, said his client will plead not guilty at an Oct. 9 arraignment. He tried unsuccessfully to get the lawsuit thrown out based on the claim that the Mexican teenager has no Constitutional rights. A court has agreed with this stance in previous cases with similar circumstances.
Predictably, the Border Patrol Union criticized the indictment, suggesting their agents are the victims of “a world of political agendas and armchair quarterbacking.”
Arizona seems to have a penchant for Border Patrol agents murdering immigrants. Two other agents have been charged before, but one was acquitted and the other resulted in hung juries.
The Border Patrol has killed 10 people since 2010 in 40 cases of use of deadly force against alleged rock throwers.
Swartz’s indictment comes at a time of increased awareness of the Border Patrol’s excessive use of force. Even a Homeland Security Advisory Council report found that the agency has little care for life and is swamped with corruption.
“Lethargic investigations of internal abuses and a vulnerability to systematic corruption by drug smugglers and other criminals are the basis for the Council’s recommendation that U.S. Customs and Border Protection add approximately 350 criminal investigators to its current staff of 200 — a 175% increase — in order to help mitigate internal corruption and the use of unnecessary force against migrants.
The 29-page report, composed by the independent Council that reports to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, attacks the agency’s propensity to shoot unarmed or non-threatening individuals. It suggests that officials review their policies and prioritize the preservation of human life as hundreds of shootings by Border Patrol agents remain unaccounted for.”
The fact that Swartz shot Rodriguez 10 times, through a fence, does not lend credibility to the argument that he was trying to save his own life. It instead suggests that he used the Mexican teen for target practice in an act of inhumanity.
Swartz also faces a civil lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union by Elena Rodriguez, the boy’s mother. The outcome of the cases will tell us whether the government will take Border Patrol’s problem of corruption and excessive force seriously, or let it continue to spiral out of hand.