A review by federal officials of four confrontations – including two deadly incidents – involving U.S. Customs and Border Protection found that border agents’ use of force each time was justified, according to findings the agency posted Wednesday.
In March 2015, a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Washington State shot and killed a Canadian man wanted on a murder charge who had crossed illegally into the country. On Christmas Eve 2014, at the San Ysidro border crossing near San Diego, Customs and Border Protection officers struggled with a heroin smuggler and tasered the man, who later died. A panel of Justice and Homeland Security department officials concluded that the law enforcement officials did not violate agency policy on the use of force.
Border Patrol agents also followed agency policy on the use of force in two other incidents that were not fatal, officials concluded. In May 2015, agents tasered a woman during a confrontation at a traffic checkpoint near Waddington, New York. A month earlier, an agent tracking drug couriers near the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona fired his rifle at a smuggler who appeared poised to throw a rock.
The officials who conducted the reviews sit on Customs and Border Protection’s National Use of Force Review Board, which assessed the four incidents and made recommendations concerning policy, training and operations.
In the Washington shooting, Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Dave McEachran declined to prosecute after his office concluded in May 2015 that the Border Patrol agent who shot a 20-year-old Canadian man once in the head was justified.
On March 19, 2015, Jamison Edward Childress tried to sneak into the U.S. near Sumas, Washington, but tripped a sensor, according to the Bellingham Herald. When agents responded, Childress pulled out a can of bear spray and yelled at the agents “Kill me,” and “Just (expletive) shoot me!”
The California incident ended in the death of Francisco Manuel Cesena, 40, of El Cajon, California. Customs and Border Protection officers repeatedly shocked the man, a U.S. citizen, as he struggled with them after they found him trying to smuggle 7.7 grams of heroin taped to his body.
A medical examiner determined the man died of cardiac arrest and found traces of methamphetamine, morphine and other drugs in his system.
The review board, which was established in December 2014, examines confrontations that resulted in serious physical injury or death to determine whether the agents’ actions were within policy, involved misconduct and what lessons can be learned. The board reviews shootings and other incidents that a prosecutor – federal, state or local – already has declined to prosecute. This calendar year, the board has published reviews of eight incidents.
Customs and Border Protection in June released for the first time the review panel’s findings of four earlier incidents, finding that the use of force was within policy. In a 2015 report to Congress, the agency reported conclusions – all within policy – in five other matters, but did not identify the incidents.
The committee, which was launched by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske to promote accountability and transparency, has come under fire by civil rights and immigration advocates for not being open enough.
Confrontations involving border agents or officers have resulted in more than four dozen deaths since 2005. After spiking in 2013, the number of incidents involving the use of force by the border agency declined in the past two years, but appears to have climbed again in the 2016 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. The agency is expected to announce final statistics soon.
Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on the panel’s recent findings. Former internal affairs officials at the agency have said that several shootings were “highly suspect,” and that the Border Patrol in particular attempted to cover up excessive force by presenting information to make deadly incidents appear justified.
Andrew Becker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ABeckerCIR.