U.S. Border Patrol under scrutiny for deadly force
by Brian Skoloff
NOGALES, Ariz. - A pair of Mexican drug smugglers in camouflage pants, bundles of marijuana strapped to their backs, scaled a 25 foot-high fence in the middle of the night, slipped quietly into the United States and dashed into the darkness.
U.S. Border Patrol agents and local police gave chase on foot - from bushes to behind homes, then back to the fence.
The conflict escalated. Authorities say they were being pelted with rocks. One agent responded by aiming a gun into Mexico and firing multiple shots at the assailant, killing a 16-year-old boy whose family says was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Oct. 10 shooting has prompted renewed outcry over the Border Patrol's use-of-force policies and angered human rights activists and Mexican officials who believe the incident has become part of a disturbing trend along the border - gunning down rock-throwers rather than using non-lethal weapons.
The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General has launched a probe of the agency's policies, the first such broad look at the tactics of an organization with 18,500 agents deployed to the Southwest region alone. The Mexican government has pleaded with the U.S. to change its ways. And the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has questioned the excessive use of force by Border Patrol.
At least 16 people have been killed by agents along the Mexico border since 2010, eight in cases where federal authorities said they were being attacked with rocks, said Vicki Gaubeca, director of the ACLU's Regional Center for Border Rights in Las Cruces, N.M.
The Border Patrol says sometimes lethal force is necessary: Its agents were assaulted with rocks 249 times in the 2012 fiscal year, causing injuries ranging from minor abrasions to major head contusions.
It is a common occurrence along the border for rocks to be thrown from Mexico at agents in the U.S. by people trying to distract them from making arrests or merely to harass them - particularly in areas that are heavily trafficked by drug smugglers and illegal immigrants.
Still, Gaubeca balks at what she and others deem the unequal "use of force to use a bullet against a rock."
"There has not been a single death of a Border Patrol agent caused by a rock," she said. "Why aren't they doing something to protect their agents, like giving them helmets and shields?"
The Border Patrol has declined to discuss its use of lethal force policy in detail, but notes agents may protect themselves and their colleagues when their lives are threatened, and rocks are considered deadly weapons.
Kent Lundgren, chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, recalled a time in the 1970s when he was hit in the head while patrolling the border near El Paso, Texas.
"It put me on my knees," Lundgren said. "Had that rock caught me in the temple, it would have been lethal, I have no doubt."
It is extremely rare for U.S. border authorities to face criminal charges for deaths or injuries to migrants. In April, federal prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges against a Border Patrol agent in the 2010 shooting death of a 15-year-old Mexican in Texas.
In 2008, a case was dismissed against a Border Patrol agent facing a murder charge after two mistrials. Witnesses testified the agent shot a man without provocation but defense attorneys contended the Mexican migrant tried to hit the agent with a rock.
Meanwhile, Mexican families have filed multiple wrongful death lawsuits, and the U.S. government, while admitting no wrongdoing, has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars. Last year, the family of the illegal immigrant killed by the agent whose murder case was dismissed reached an $850,000 settlement. The agent remains employed by Border Patrol.
Even the Mexican government has asked for a change in policy, to no avail, though Border Patrol points out that Mexico has put up no barriers on its side of the border and does little, if anything, to stop the rock throwers from assaulting agents.
"We have insisted to the United States government by multiple channels and at all levels that it is indispensable they revise and adjust Border Patrol's standard operating procedures," Mexico Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa told The Associated Press.
Elsewhere around the world, lethal force is often a last resort in such cases. Israeli police, for instance, typically use rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas to disperse rock-throwers. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said officers use live fire only as a last resort and first fire warning shots.
"There is no such crowd incident that will occur where the Israeli police will use live fire unless it's a critical situation where warning shots have to be fired in the air," Rosenfeld said.
Border Patrol agents since 2002 have been provided weapons that can launch pepper-spray projectiles up to 250 feet away. The agency did not provide statistics on how many times they have been used, but officials are quick to note agents along the U.S.-Mexico border operate in vastly different scenarios than authorities in other countries.
They often patrol wide swaths of desert alone - unlike protest situations elsewhere where authorities gather en masse clad in riot gear.
Experts say there's little that can be done to stop the violence, given the delicacies of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the fact that no international law specifically covers such instances.
"Ultimately, the politics of the wider U.S.-Mexico relationship are going to play a much bigger role than the law," said Kal Raustiala, professor of law and director of the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA. "The interests are just too high on both sides to let outrage from Mexico, which is totally understandable, determine the outcome here."
During a visit to the Border Patrol's training academy in Artesia, N.M., officials refused comment on all questions about rock-throwing and use of force.
At the sprawling 220-acre desert compound, prospective agents spend at least 59 days at the academy, learning everything from immigration law to off-road driving, defense tactics and marksmanship.
"We're going to teach them ... the mechanics of the weapon that they're going to use, the weapons systems, make them good marksmen, put them in scenarios where they have to make that judgment, shoot or not shoot," said the training academy's Assistant Chief Patrol Agent James Cox.
In the latest scenario, the two smugglers were attempting to climb the fence back into Mexico, while Border Patrol agents and Nogales Police Department officers ordered them down.
"Don't worry, they can't hurt us up here!" one suspect yelled to the other. Then came the rocks.
The police officers took cover, but at least one Border Patrol agent went to the fence and opened fire on Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, who was shot seven times, according to Mexican authorities.
The Border Patrol has revealed little information about the case as probes unfold on both sides of the fence that separates Nogales, Ariz., from Nogales, Sonora, literally a stone's throw from each other. The FBI is investigating, as is standard with all Border Patrol shootings, and the agency won't comment "out of respect for the investigative process," said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Michael Friel.
The teen's mother claims her son had nothing to do with drugs or throwing rocks. She says he was just walking past the area a few blocks from home and got caught in the crossfire. None of the training, political maneuvering or diplomatic tip-toeing matters to her. She just wants her boy back. She just wants answers.
"Put yourself in my place," Araceli Rodriguez told the Nogales International. "A child is what you most love in life. It's what you get up in the morning for, what you work for. They took away a piece of my heart."
Fair Bluff police say community is helping them make arrests
by Gavin Johnson
FAIR BLUFF, NC (WECT) - Making nine arrests in two weeks, police in Fair Bluff have crossed off a list of nearly a dozen wanted suspects, and Police Chief Justin Hewett says that the community policing helped to catch the men and women.
"I really believe in community policing," said Hewett. "Most of the arrests we recently made were done due to concerned citizens calling us with information on these people and where they were located."
He also says getting his department up-to-date with crime-fighting technology is also keeping them ahead of crooks.
"We have access to NC Aware now and CJ Leads," said Hewett. "When we pull vehicles over, we can run license plates. Plus, look and see if someone has a warrant."
He says that the latest arrests are just part of an uphill battle, keeping big city problems from taking over the small town. "We have a problem with violent crimes," said Hewett. "A lot of large crowds getting in fights. Those crowds can be more dangerous than a gang, because those people are trying to make a name for themselves."
Hewett says, eventually, he would like to work and help get the speed limit in Fair Bluff reduced from 35 miles per hour.
San Jose seeks public input in police chief search
by John Woolfolk
SAN JOSE -- San Jose officials are inviting residents to offer suggestions for what the city should look for in its next police chief in a series of public meetings starting the last week of November.
"We're really checking back with our community," said David Vossbrink, a spokesman for City Manager Debra Figone.
Police Chief Chris Moore, 51, appointed in February 2011, surprised City Hall in September when he announced he'll retire at the end of January after just two years leading the department where he is a 26-year veteran.
A search for a successor already is under way, led by Teri Black-Brann whose public-sector executive recruitment firm had led the last effort that ultimately settled on in-house candidate Moore after the retirement of former Chief Rob Davis.
That effort involved dozens of community meetings to gauge public sentiment at a time when the department was rocked by critics who accused officers of heavy-handed enforcement tactics against Latinos, Asians and blacks.
"The theme the last time was 'culturally competent,' a chief committed to community engagement and community policing," Vossbrink said. "What we're doing now is a double-check: Has anything changed?"
Civil-rights leaders have praised Moore's efforts to ease concerns about the department's tactics through community engagement. But Moore's department has since been wracked by budget cuts, layoffs and low morale amid rising crime and a bitter fight over trimming generous but costly officer pensions.
Moore at one point faced a potential vote of no confidence from the officers' union where some thought he didn't fight hard enough against budget cuts.
After announcing his retirement, Moore indicated he was disappointed that the city couldn't resolve its pension problem through negotiations with officers and that his departure was prompted by the City Council's refusal to put a sales tax measure before voters this month to raise revenue. That in turn has led to some grumbling among city leaders that he was too unwilling to accept the city's financial limits, with the city forced to cut staffing as employee retirement costs tripled in a decade.
Councilman Sam Liccardo, a former prosecutor who supported the city's pension reform efforts, said, "We want a strong leader, and also someone who's a collaborator, someone who recognizes our fiscal constraints and can manage the department without unearthly expectations of money falling from the sky."
He said he would like a chief who can acknowledge the frustrations among the ranks "without succumbing to the temptation to become overtly political."
But Councilman Ash Kalra, a former defense lawyer who has criticized the city's budget approach, argued the city needs a chief who will stand up to budget-cutting pressure.
"We want someone who will come in and tell it to us straight," Kalra said. "I think we really need to put the police chief who comes in in a position to be successful."
Figone makes the chief appointment with ratification by the City Council. The first of four community meetings will start at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26, at the Berryessa Community Center. Others will be held Wednesday, Nov. 28; Monday, Dec. 3, and Monday, Dec. 10, at other sites.
Police to Hold Emergency Preparedness Seminar
Tonight's meeting to focus on general emergency preparedness
by Noah Cohen
Teaneck Police will hold an emergency preparedness seminar Thursday night, the latest in a series of public outreach efforts organized by the department's community policing unit.
Officers from the Community Policing Squad, working with the town's emergency management office, have held several meetings on various emergency situations. The presentations have been tailored for groups ranging from children to senior citizens, and can be taken as a whole or in parts.
Thursday's meeting will focus on general preparedness, according to the township.
The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at Police Headquarters, located at 900 Teaneck Road.
More information is available by calling the Community Policing Squad at 201-837-8759 or the police desk at 201-837-2600.