U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Border Patrol Agent Found Not Guilty for Shooting Teen Across Border

In 2012, Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz shot and killed a sixteen year old Mexican boy, Jose Elena Rodriguez. The federal murder trial over whether the killing was justified recently ended with the jury returning a not guilty verdict for the second degree murder charge.

The jury, however, could not reach an agreement on the lesser charges of involuntary and voluntary manslaughter. The court ordered a mistrial as to those charges, yet the decision to retry those charges has not yet been made. Given the gory, and uncontested, details, it would not be surprising to see the matter retried.

Tragedy on the Border

The facts of this case are rather disturbing. 

It was alleged that Jose was part of a group of individuals throwing rocks at Border Patrol agents while attempting to smuggle marijuana into the United States. Jose's family insists that he was merely walking home from playing basketball with friends. However, the prosecution took the position that regardless of what Jose may have been doing, the use of lethal force used was excessive and uncalled for, particularly as retreating was an option.

Swartz, unlike the other agents that simply walked away from where the rocks were being thrown, walked towards the border fence, then fired sixteen shots, which required him to reload once. He hit Jose ten times, with only two shots not striking him in the back. One juror explained being absolutely baffled and disgusted by the fact that thirteen additional shots were fired after Jose had fallen. That juror also discussed how emotions ran very hot in the jury room during the deliberations.

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