TUCSON, Ariz.— A U.S. Border patrol agent has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of a Mexican teenager who was shot from the U.S. side of the border in 2012.
Lonnie Swartz was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury that reviewed the death of 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, who was shot about 10 times.
The border patrol has said that Elena Rodríguez was among a group of rock throwers endangering agents’ lives. His family insists the boy was walking home from a basketball game with friends and was not armed or hurling rocks.
Luis Parra, the attorney for the boy’s mother, said the family was grateful to the Department of Justice “for this first step in the pursuit of justice,” and they “remain steadfast in their resolve to seek full transparency” from the border patrol.
Swartz’s attorney, Sean Chapman, did not respond to a call seeking comment. He told The Arizona Daily Star that he expects his client to plead not guilty at an Oct. 9 arraignment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Swartz also faces a federal civil rights lawsuit in the death of the teen, who was in Nogales, Sonora, on Oct. 10, 2012, when Swartz fired from Nogales, Arizona.
The case happened amid criticism that the border patrol uses force indiscriminately, a charge the agency has denied. Border patrol agents are generally allowed to use lethal force against rock throwers because rocks can be deadly. Rock throwers have attacked agents more than 1,700 times since 2010, according to the agency.
Chapman tried to get the family’s lawsuit thrown out on the grounds that the Constitution does not apply to the boy, a Mexican citizen, because he was in Mexico at the time of the shooting.
A federal judge in July ruled that the lawsuit can go forward.
In a similar case in Texas, a federal appeals court ruled that a teen killed in Mexico by a border agent in El Paso, Texas, was not protected by the Constitution.
Border patrol agent Jesus Mesa Jr. shot 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Güereca in 2010 near a bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.
Authorities said Mesa was trying to arrest immigrants who had illegally crossed into the country when rock throwers attacked him. Mesa fired his weapon across the Rio Grande, striking the teen twice.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals originally said Hernandez Güereca’s family could sue Mesa. But the full court overturned that ruling in April.