The Justice Department will not pursue federal criminal civil rights or other federal criminal charges against the United States Border Patrol (USBP) agent involved in the shooting incident that resulted in the death of Carlos LaMadrid, the Department announced today.
Officials from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) met today with LaMadrid’s family members and their representatives to inform them of this determination. The department’s decision is based on the facts developed during an independent and comprehensive investigation into the matter.
The department devoted significant time and resources to investigating the events surrounding LaMadrid’s death on March 21, 2011, around noon, at the international boundary fence separating the United States from Mexico in Douglas, Ariz. A team of experienced federal prosecutors reviewed thousands of pages of evidence generated by the DHS OIG investigators, the Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Internal Affairs Unit. They conducted a detailed and lengthy analysis of numerous materials including videotapes of the incident, the autopsy report, physical evidence reports, official law enforcement use of force training materials, law enforcement accounts and civilian witness accounts. Federal prosecutors also interviewed several key witnesses and physically examined the scene of the shooting to gather additional information.
The evidence developed during the investigation indicated that LaMadrid, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen, was observed by Douglas Police Department (DPD) officers loading suspected bundles of narcotics into a Chevrolet Avalanche. DPD officers pursued the vehicle, but LaMadrid failed to yield and drove toward the international boundary fence. The Avalanche ran into a USBP agent’s service vehicle near the fence. LaMadrid exited the driver’s door, ran toward the fence, and climbed up a ladder that was resting against the fence. On top of the fence, near LaMadrid, was another male throwing brick-sized rocks at the USBP agent. At the time the shots were fired by the agent, LaMadrid was in the line of fire between the rock-throwing male and the agent. LaMadrid was struck by four bullets, causing him to fall to the ground. He was transported to a nearby hospital where he died in surgery several hours later.
While a civilian witness who climbed up the ladder behind the victim stated that he did not see anyone throwing rocks at the time of the shooting, his account is contradicted by the physical, testimonial and video evidence. A law enforcement officer who witnessed the shooting stated that he saw a man on top of the fence throw three rocks at the agent, forcing the shooting agent to duck down behind his vehicle for cover. The videotapes of the incident, although poor in quality, show an individual on top of the border fence making an overhead throwing motion as the victim ascends the ladder. Crime scene investigators recovered several brick-sized rocks at the scene, including one that shattered the windshield of the USBP agent’s service vehicle, which the agent was standing or stooping next to when he fired five shots.
Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights law, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an official “willfully” deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning that the official acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is the highest standard of intent imposed by the law. Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation. After a careful and thorough review, a team of experienced federal prosecutors determined that the evidence was insufficient to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges.
This matter is also not prosecutable under the federal homicide statutes, although it was committed within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States, because there is insufficient evidence for the government to disprove that the agent was acting in self-defense when he fired at the rock thrower and mistakenly struck the victim, who was in his line of fire.
While the loss of life is regrettable, the facts of this matter do not support a federal prosecution. Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed.