Suit Against CBP Officer For Killing Fleeing Carlos LaMadrid At Border Dismissed
May 26, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — For better or worse, talks of the situation at the United States border with Mexico has hit fever pitch as the November election is coming upon us. Presidential hopefuls have made the ceremonial trek to the southern border to meet with representatives of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, which employs the largest number of armed, sworn law enforcement officers in this country, with over 44 thousand at its disposal.
When you have scores of people (they don’t become “aliens” until they’ve crossed the border without permission or legal status) of all stripes possibly encountering CBP’s armed border presence, there is always the potential for confrontation. One incident occurred in 2011, when 19 year-old Carlos LaMadrid was shot dead by a CBP agent as he tried to flee into Mexico near the Arizona border. Ironically, he was shot and killed as he tried to get out of the U.S. And following a bench trial, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by LaMadrid’s estate. From The Tucson Sentinel:
In his 14-page ruling, U.S. District Judge James A. Soto rejected claims that Border Patrol Agent Lucas Tidwell acted recklessly when he fired his weapon during an incident in Douglas, killing 19-year old Carlos LaMadrid, a U.S. citizen.
Tidwell said that he fired in response to rock-throwing from men on the border fence, and that LaMadrid was hit accidentally as he attempted to climb the 18-foot fence that separates Douglas from Agua Prieta, Sonora.
Working on a tip from a denizen of the border town of Douglas, local police tried to pull over an SUV that LaMadrid was driving. After a chase began near the Mexican border, police contacted CBP to thwart his possible escape to Mexico. Then LaMadrid fled on foot and began climbing a ladder set up on the wall. That’s when the CBP agent at the scene fired shots in response to two other men throwing rocks in his direction from the other side of the wall. LaMadrid was hit four times as he tried to climb over to Mexico, and he fell back into the American border, where he died.
LaMadrid was unarmed, and was fleeing from law enforcement. This would be the quintessential unjustified shooting by law enforcement. But his fate was sealed when two guys started throwing rocks at Agent Tidwell, who fired his gun in response and was found by Judge Soto to have acted reasonably. The fact that rocks were being hurled at the agent took the wind out of LaMadre’s civil case against CBP, and any potential indictment of the agent for that matter:
A reasonable person in Tidwell’s position would believe that he was facing unlawful deadly physical force where rocks the size of softballs or bricks are being thrown from 15 feet away and 10 feet above you directly at your head at 50 to 60 miles per hour. In such circumstances, a reasonable person would also believe that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect himself from that deadly physical force.
Over the years, CBP has been accused of using excessive force as part of its “rocking policy,” whereby CBP agents are authorized to use lethal force in response to being assaulted with rocks. The rocks are usually thrown from the Mexican side to distract the agents, as in LaMadrid’s case, but it’s the “official” policy to use bullets in response to rocks at a volatile border. CBP’s “lesser” peccadilloes have involved allegations of abusive treatments at ports of entry.
LaMadre’s death is a use-of-force case, regardless of the fact that LaMadrid was shot as he tried to flee into Mexico, where the vast majority of encounters with CBP occur when people are going the other way. LaMadrid’s tragic shooting is a symptom, not the disease.
A recent report from the “CBP Integrity Advisory Panel,” led by Bill Bratton (yes, that Bill Bratton) has concluded that CBP’s discipline system, dealing with allegations of excessive use of force, “is broken.” It recognized that “there is a very real potential for the use of excessive and unnecessary force” given CBP’s armed border presence and the nature of encounters. The report noted that:
In its brief history, CBP has not been noted for its transparency when it comes to use of force incidents, although this is changing, and given its size, it has never developed a truly CBP-wide process for receiving, tracking and responding to public complaints. Its disciplinary process takes far too long to be an effective deterrent.
This is somewhat significant, given the vapid nature of a previous report on CBP accountability, issued by an “independent” hired hand. The report further recognized that, “CBP, like all border agencies worldwide, has a significant potential vulnerability, – the threat of corruption.” Indeed, a CBP agent was recently indicted for bribery, but charges for excessive force are rare. It’s a foregone conclusion that the agent who shot LaMadrid was not charged.
The fact that the conditions at the southern border is a hot button issue in the political “discourse” gives us the rare opportunity to bring this stuff to light, before people forget and go back to worrying about whether their next iPhone will be waterproof.