US Border Patrol agent to face lawsuit after killing a Mexican teenager

American Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz is not immune to being sued by the family of the Mexican teen he killed in 2012, ruled a federal appeals court yesterday.

According to the court, the family of  Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez can press charges against Swartz for violating the deceased’s civil rights. The ramifications of the ruling could potentially be huge, as it brings into question which country’s laws the case is protected under.

The case relates to the killing of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez who The Guardian reported as being on Calle International in Nogales, Mexico when he was shot ten times in October 2012. The town is located directly on the US border, and the shots were fired from within the jurisdiction of the United States. According to reports, the Border Patrol agent aimed his weapon through the border fence and opened fire, claiming self-defence against drug smugglers who were throwing rocks. Elena was hit with eight bullets in his back and two in his head, and though the investigation believed he was involved with throwing rocks, statements claim he was not involved with drug smuggling and was just walking home from basketball.

Swartz had enough time to reload his gun and fire further shots at the teenager, but in April 2018 he was found not guilty of murder by an American jury.  At the time there was considerable contention about whether Elena, who was stood in Mexico, could be protected by the American Constitution because the shots were fired from the United States.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an American NGO that aims to protect and defend the individual’s constitutional rights had filed a lawsuit against Swartz on behalf of Elena’s mother in 2014.  According to declaration statements, the 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that the Border Patrol agent violated the constitution and as a result is not immune to facing the lawsuit.

It is not the only time that cross-border incidents with Border Patrol police have been brought to court. In 2010, Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa shot twice and killed 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca who was in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico at the time.  The case of Hernandez went through the American court system before making its way to the Supreme Court, who sent it back down to the lower house. The case was then dismissed.

What yesterday’s ruling means is that the laws of the American Constitution do not stop at the border. It does however come at a time of continuing anxiety as the American President voices threats of the ‘wall’.

Of the other people to have been killed on Mexican soil by Border Patrol agents, such as José Alfredo Yanez Reyes in Tijuana, Sergio Adrian Hernández Guereca in Cd. Juárez, Antonio Perez Ramirez in San Luis Colorado, Ramsés Barrón Torres in Nogales, Guillermo Arévalo Pedraza in Nuevo Laredo, and Juan Pablo Pérez Santillán in Matamoros, none of the killers have yet been brought to justice.

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