An internal Border Patrol investigation of nearly 70 shootings, 19 of them fatal, concluded there was no wrongdoing in all but three that remain pending, according to the Los Angeles Times.
No agent involved in the shootings of immigrants – which occurred between 2010 and 2012 — has been charged with a crime, the Times said, citing Anthony Triplett, who headed the internal affairs investigation.
Two agents who were disciplined got oral reprimands.
The three pending cases could bring charges of criminal misconduct, the Times said. The agents in those cases continue working, armed, at the border, it added.
The pending cases' shootings occurred in 2012, and have been under investigation by the Justice Department’s civil rights division since then.
"We are deeply disappointed," said Juanita Molina, executive director of the Tucson-based human rights group Border Action Network. “When you have someone throwing rocks and someone responding with lethal force, it is just not proportional."
American Civil Liberties Union security expert Chris Rickerd agrees.
"Turning the page doesn't mean burying the past," the Times quoted Rickerd, who is based in Washington D.C., as saying. "There is no assurance to border residents that agents who have used excessive, improper lethal force aren't on the job in their communities."
The Obama administration had vowed to take steps to address concerns of excessive force by the Border Patrol.
In May, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol’s parent agency, started allowing people to file Spanish-language complaints about agents.
The Border Patrol, which has some 21,000 members, has been less transparent about incidents than police departments are in similar situations that raise questions and concerns. Recently, however, Border Patrol supervisors have received more discretion to document details of shootings by agents.
The internal affairs investigation followed a similar review by the non-profit group, Police Executive Research Forum, based in Washington D.C., which concluded that the shootings investigated fell into a pattern of officers choosing such force out of frustration over people who throw rocks at them from the other side of the border.
The study also said that some agents had tried to provoke their targets – doing such things as stepping in front of a person’s car – so that they could rationalize shooting at them.
It concluded that the Border Patrol failed to hold those involved in such incidents accountable, and did not do enough to investigate the circumstances leading to the shootings.
In 2014, R. Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, issued guidelines on when shooting was justified, ordered new weapons training and established a panel to investigate deadly force incidents, the Times said.
Last week, Kerlikowske chose Matthew Klein, a 26-year veteran of the Washington D.C. police department, to head the Border Patrol internal affairs department.
The Times quoted Klein as saying that a goal of his is to get reviews of deadly force to proceed faster.
"We would prefer a faster resolution," Klein said.
Internal affairs officers have not had authority to conduct criminal investigations of Customs and Border Protection officers and agents. But Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson changed that last year, something that Klein expects will result in better, more thorough reviews of shootings.
In the three cases that remain pending, Mexican men were fatally shot by agents from across the border, the Times said. One man, Juan Pablo Perez Santillan, 30, was a lookout for migrants crossing the Rio Grande illegally near Brownsville, Texas, in 2012, when an agent using a high-power scope on his rifle shot him at least five times, the Times said, citing a lawsuit.
The Times said that one agent shouted, "Que se muera el perro," meaning "Let the dog die.”
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