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Border Agency Clears Employees In 4 Shooting Incidents

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Associated Press

U.S. Border Patrol vehicles travel through the Arizona desert about 10 miles north of Mexico, Dec. 16, 2010.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection found that employees acted properly when they fired guns in four incidents dating back to 2012 — including two that left two people dead.

The findings were released Thursday by the agency's National Use of Force Review Board, which was established in December 2014 amid widespread criticism that the nation's largest law enforcement agency was slow to investigate such incidents and lacked transparency.

One case involves a vessel collision on June 17, 2015, off the coast of Solana Beach.

A crew of Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine fired two warning shots and another shot to disable the engine of a northbound boat carrying 20 people illegally from Rosarito Beach, Mexico. The smuggling vessel, which had been steered erratically while trying to evade authorities, made an abrupt turn about 10 miles from Solana Beach and slammed into the government vessel, throwing the immigrants overboard. One female passenger died.

The other cases involve a Border Patrol agent who fired from Texas at rock-throwers in Mexico, a heavily armed murder suspect who was fatally shot as he fled a Texas house when a Border Patrol agent and other law enforcement officers opened fire, and a Border Patrol agent who fired at rock-throwers in Arizona.

Here are more detailed descriptions from Customs and Border Protection of those three incidents:

• On Oct. 2, 2014, a Border Patrol agent fired one shot at a rock-thrower in Mexico who posed "an immediate threat." Agents who were patrolling the Rio Grande near Escobares, Texas, saw three abandoned rafts and eight people fleeing. They found 682 pounds of marijuana nearby.

The suspects threw baseball-sized rocks from Mexico at a Border Patrol vessel that got stuck on a sandbar, leading agents to fire 18 pepper-spray projectiles. The assailants dispersed after the agent fired his rifle; no injuries were reported.

• On July 22, 2014, a Border Patrol agent shot at a murder suspect in La Joya, Texas, who barricaded himself in a home and fired about 15 shots at law enforcement officials. Agents responded to a call for assistance from Edinburg, Texas, police. Ten law enforcement officials, including a Border Patrol agent, fired their guns at the man, who was struck several times and died at the scene.

• On May 5, 2012, a Border Patrol agent who was chasing people who had crossed the border illegally from Mexico fired one shot at a rock-thrower in a mountainous area near Nogales, Arizona. The agent said the assailant threw a rock that was larger than a softball from about 25 feet away. There were no reports of injuries.

The reviews are the National Use of Force Review Board's first under its mandate to review uses of lethal force and other serious incidents once federal, state and local prosecutors decline to pursue criminal charges. It has opened investigations into 14 other cases.

Customs and Border Protection said officials have fired their guns in 223 incidents from the 2011 to 2015 fiscal years, including 28 last year. Rock attacks on agents have been among the most controversial, with critics saying agents have overreacted and defenders saying stones can be deadly weapons.

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