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US Border Patrol agent kills man near San Diego

February 19, 2014

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Authorities say a U.S. Border Patrol agent fatally shot a man near the Mexico border after he was hit in the face with a rock.

San Diego County sheriff’s Lt. Glenn Giannantonio says the agent was trying to stop a group of people suspected of crossing the border illegally from Mexico on Tuesday. He says the agent fired at the man who threw the rock in a rugged, mountainous area.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene after first-aid efforts failed. The agent declined to be treated at a hospital for injuries that the sheriff’s lieutenant describes as minor.

The Border Patrol has been under heavy scrutiny for its use of force, particularly in response to rock attacks. The Border Patrol has long maintained that rocks are deadly weapons.

Two other people in the U.S. illegally were arrested, the Border Patrol said. Kelly Thornton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego, said they will not be charged with a crime.

The Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group that led a government-commissioned review, has recommended that the Border Patrol prohibit deadly force against rock-throwers and assailants in vehicles, Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher told The Associated Press last year. Its parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, rejected the proposed curbs, which Fisher called “very restrictive.”

Under current policy, agents can use deadly force if they have a reasonable belief that their lives or the lives of others are in danger.

Agents were attacked with rocks 339 times in the 2011 fiscal year, more than any other type of assault, according to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general. They responded with gunfire 33 times and with less-than-lethal force — a category that includes pepper spray and batons — 118 times.

Rock attacks fell to 185 in the 2012 fiscal year, becoming the second-most common type of assault. Agents fired a gun 22 times and responded 42 times with less-than-lethal force.

A spokesman for the union representing Border Patrol agents said he was confident the investigation would find the agent did nothing wrong.

“The easiest way to stop these incidents from happening is to stop attacking Border Patrol agents,” said Shawn Moran of the National Border Patrol Council.

Mitra Ebadolahi, an attorney for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial counties, said there wasn’t enough public information to say if the agent’s action was justified.

She said she was troubled that there appeared to be no independent witnesses.

“It’s imperative for the agency to behave honestly and transparently,” Ebadolahi said.