ⓘ Border shooting of José Rodríguez


ⓘ Border shooting of Jose Rodriguez

On October 10, 2012, at the Mexico–United States border near Nogales, Arizona, U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz fired 16 shots at teenager Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, killing him, on the grounds that young men threw rocks at him and other law enforcement agents.

After the incident, the law enforcement agencies stated the Mexican civilians were trying to stop them from confiscating a shipment of contraband drugs as well as moving immigrants across the border.

Rodriguez was hit 10 times from behind by Swartzs shots. Swartz was charged with second degree murder for the killing. He was acquitted on the murder charge and the jury failed to reach a verdict on lesser charges.


1. Incident

Around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 10, 2012, John Zuñiga, a police officer in Nogales, Arizona, received a call reporting "suspicious activity" on International Street, a road running directly along the border. Getting to the scene, Zuñiga heard from another police officer from Nogales, Quinardo Garci, that two men carrying "bundles taped to their backs" had climbed the fence into the United States. Identifying the bundles, on the basis of similar incidents in the past, as most probably containing marijuana, they called out for back up.

After several Border Patrol and Customs agents arrived, they saw the two men scaling the fence back into Mexico, empty-handed and with nothing on their backs. They commanded the two men to climb back down. At that time, Garcia and Zuñiga stated in their reports that they saw "rocks flying through the air" at the assorted agents and also heard "gunfire", although they were unable to identify its source.

In the days following the incident, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency stated that

After verbal commands from agents to cease were ignored, one agent then discharged his service firearm. One of the subjects appeared to have been hit.

The person hit was Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16-year old resident of Nogales, Mexico. He was unarmed, standing on the Mexican side of the border on a sidewalk on Calle Internacional street, in front of a doctors office, below a sign reading "Medical Emergencies" in Spanish. He was hit from behind by 10 bullets. The autopsy revealed that gunshot wounds to the head, lungs, and arteries killed him.


2. Trial

U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Ray Swartz was charged with second degree murder for the killing of Jose Rodriguez. There had been a number of similar incidents in the preceding decade, but this was the first time a US law enforcement officer was charged in relation to a killing that took part across the US–Mexican border.

In the trial, which began in late 2015, the defendant said he had used deadly force because Rodriguez "had been throwing rocks". Although a witness testified that Rodriguez was not throwing rocks at the law enforcement officers, evidence showed that he was, along with other youths and men. Prosecutors acknowledged that Rodriguez was throwing rocks across the border but stated "he did not deserve to die" for this. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection refused to release surveillance-camera footage of the incident.

After the testimony by Emma Lew, the director of the medical examiner in Miami-Dade County, Florida, who stated that Swartzs first shot "likely hit the boy in the middle of his back as he was running," the prosecution rested its case in the trial on April 5, 2018.

On April 23, 2018, Swartz was acquitted of the charge for second-degree murder; the jury was deadlocked on lesser charges.


3. Aftermath

The judge presiding on the trial, Raner Collins, declared a mistrial. The head of the Tucson union for Border Patrol officers, stated, after the jurys decision was announced, that "justice was properly served" and that the union was "pretty happy with it".

After the jurys decision was reported, protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse in downtown Tucson late Monday afternoon, and blocked off the intersection in front of it. Among those participating in the protest was the mother of Carlos LaMadrid, another Mexican teen who had been shot and killed by Border Patrol agents in 2011.


4. Similar incidents

A 2013 review by the Police Executive Research Forum PERF reviewed 67 shooting incidents that resulted in 19 people dying, during the period from January 2010 through October 2012. The review found agents guilty of criminal conduct in 3 of the incidents. Two agents faced disciplinary action in the form of an "oral reprimand".