A U.S. Border Patrol agent won’t be prosecuted by Cochise County for the 2011 fatal shooting of a man who was climbing over the fence into Mexico from southeastern Arizona, authorities said.
The decision comes two weeks after the U.S. Justice Department announced the federal government wouldn’t pursue charges against the agent in the death of Carlos LaMadrid.
“There’s no doubt the agent killed Mr. LaMadrid,” Cochise County Chief Criminal Deputy Doyle Johnstun told The Arizona Republic. “But the agent was being assaulted with a deadly weapon and he had the right to return fire, basically.”
Douglas police said at the time that LaMadrid, 19, was seen loading bundles of drugs into a vehicle and failed to stop when pursued by officers. LaMadrid jumped out of the vehicle, ran to the international fence and climbed a ladder to the top where police said another man was throwing brick-sized rocks at Border Patrol Agent Lucas Tidwell.
Federal authorities said their investigation showed LaMadrid “was in the line of fire between the rock-throwing male and the agent” when he was struck by four bullets.
Investigators recovered several large rocks at the scene, including one that shattered the windshield of the vehicle the agent was ducking behind when he fired his weapon. They ruled the agent acted in self-defense.
Johnstun said the Cochise County Attorney’s Office decided some time ago not to prosecute Tidwell but delayed disclosing its decision until after the Justice Department concluded its investigation.
Tidwell’s attorney, Sean Chapman, said the decision was expected.
“He was getting rocked, and could have been killed or severely injured, no question about it. Unfortunately, the person shot climbed into his line of fire,” Chapman said.
Meanwhile, a Tucson attorney representing LaMadrid’s family in a civil lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection decried the decision not to pursue charges against the agent as politically motivated.
“Invariably, they don’t prosecute agents,” lawyer Jesus Romo said. “They’ve never liked prosecutions of Border Patrol agents.”
About five years ago, Cochise County authorities pursued a second-degree murder charge against a Border Patrol agent in the shooting death of an immigrant in the desert. Agent Nicholas Corbett maintained the shooting was self-defense after the man picked up a rock. Prosecutors said the shooting was unprovoked and that Corbett lied to supervisors about the shooting.
After two trials ended with hung juries, the county dropped the case.
The Border Patrol won’t discuss in detail its use-of-lethal-force policy, but notes agents may protect themselves and their colleagues when their lives are threatened, and rocks are considered deadly weapons.
The Justice Department also announced last week it wouldn’t pursue criminal charges in a separate January 2011 fatal shooting at the international boundary fence in Nogales. Officials said there was insufficient evidence to disprove the agent’s claim that he shot 17-year-old Ramses Barron-Torres in self-defense. They also said the teen was on the Mexico side of the border when he was shot so they lacked jurisdiction to prosecute the agent under the federal criminal civil rights statute.
Authorities said Barron-Torres was among several others throwing rocks at agents who were responding to reports of drugs being moved across the border.
The Justice Department continues to investigate the October 2012 shooting death of a teenager who was killed in a similar situation in Nogales.
Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, 16, was shot numerous times by a Border Patrol agent as authorities responded to reports of drug smugglers in the area. They said Rodriguez was among others throwing rocks at them when he was shot and later died on the Mexico side of the border.
The boy’s family has denied the accusations and has been pressuring Mexican authorities to pursue charges.
At the time, Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department issued a statement saying it “forcefully condemned” the shooting while calling other such deaths “a serious bilateral problem.”