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U.S. Border Patrol Accused Of Covering Up Lethal Force Cases

A new report from The Arizona Republic accuses the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency of shielding officers accused of using excessive force.
Posted at 10:00 PM, Sep 14, 2014

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has come under fire in the past for allegedly covering up incidents of excessive use of force in order to protect its agents. Now, a new report in The Arizona Republic has shed some light on how widespread the problem could be.

ARIZONA REPUBLIC REPORTER BOB ORTEGA: "In almost half the cases that have occurred since 2005, we've now discovered there were no internal investigations. No one was ever held accountable internally."

The report claims Border Patrol agents have killed 46 people in violent confrontations since 2004, including at least 15 American citizens. The agency's acting internal affairs head told the outlet he doesn't think any agent was fired or punished for any of these lethal incidents, despite an external study condemning some instances of lethal force as unjustified.

Watchdog groups and whistleblowers have long targeted the Border Patrol, claiming its agents lack accountability. The agency is often accused of cultivating a culture of impunity, protecting its officers from punishment when claims of abuse arise. (Video via CNN)

Two high-profile incidents include the 2010 shooting death of 18-year-old Juan Mendez Jr., who was shot in the back after fighting with a border patrol officer; and 16-year-old Jose Antonio Rodriguez, who was also shot in the back through a border fence in 2012. Neither officer was disciplined for shooting an unarmed, fleeing suspect, and the families of both victims have accused the agency of covering up the cases.

The CBP did promise six months ago to increase accountability and transparency. The pledge followed the release of an independent report criticizing the agency's lack of diligence in reviewing deadly-force cases.

But the agency's recently-removed internal affairs head James Tomsheck told the Center for Investigative Reporting last month that Border Patrol agents routinely cover up instances of excessive force. He listed seven "highly suspect" cases where the department failed to take action.

JAMES TOMSHECK ON CBS: "There were certainly many cases where Border Patrol agents or CBP officers engaged in excessive use of force ... that should have resulted in discipline when it did not."

The violence is hardly one-sided, though. An internal CBP memo notes there have been 6,000 assaults on Border Patrol officers since 2007 — and four officers have died in violent confrontations during that time frame. 

The agency's internal affairs head did announce Friday that 155 complaints of alleged abuse against the department merited further review. Only one of the incidents up for review resulted in a death.

This video includes images from Getty Images.