EL PASO, Texas – Federal prosecutors said Friday there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges against a U.S. Border Patrol agent in the shooting death of a 15-year-old Mexican national in 2010.
The agent didn't act inconsistently with Border Patrol policy or training regarding the use of force in the death of Sergio Hernandez-Guereca, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement announcing the decision, which was quickly denounced by the Mexican government.
U.S. authorities have said the agent shot Hernandez while trying to arrest illegal immigrants crossing the Rio Grande on June 7, 2010. Some witnesses said people on the Mexican side of the river, including Hernandez, were throwing rocks at the agent. Border agents are generally allowed to use lethal force against rock throwers.
The shooting occurred under one of the border bridges in El Paso, and it was recorded by an eyewitness with a cellphone.
The Mexican government issued a statement saying it "profoundly regrets and expresses its strong opposition to the decision" and was considering its next step. Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan had a similar reaction to the decision, tweeting: "Mexico strongly rejects it."
The U.S. Justice Department also concluded that no federal civil rights charges could be pursued, saying that "accident, mistake, misperception, negligence and bad judgment were not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation."
The department said it conducted a thorough investigation, including interviews with more than 25 civilian and law-enforcement witnesses.
"This review took into account evidence indicating that the agent's actions constituted a reasonable use of force or would constitute an act of self-defense in response to the threat created by a group of smugglers hurling rocks at the agent and his detainee," the department's statement said.
Last year, a judge in West Texas threw out a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. government over the fatal shooting. But the judge allowed a civil case against the agent to move forward.
Senior U.S. District Judge David Briones in El Paso dismissed the lawsuit because the teen was on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande when he was shot. U.S. law gives the government immunity when such claims arise in a foreign country, Briones noted, and the "harm that the Plaintiffs allege ... was felt in Mexico."