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 Ramses Barron-Torres, the department announced today.
Officials from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, 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 representatives for Barron-Torres’ family to inform them of this determination. The department’s decision is based on the facts developed during an independent and comprehensive investigation into this matter.
The department devoted significant time and resources to investigating the events surrounding Barron-Torres’ death on Jan. 5, 2011, at approximately 3:00 a.m., at the international boundary fence separating the United States from Mexico in Nogales, Ariz. A team of experienced federal prosecutors reviewed hundreds of pages of evidence generated by DHS OIG investigators and the FBI. They conducted a detailed and lengthy analysis of numerous materials including videotapes of the incident, physical evidence reports, official law enforcement use of force training materials, law enforcement accounts and civilian witness accounts.
The evidence developed during the investigation indicated that USBP agents were responding to reports that individuals were moving apparent packages of narcotics across the U.S. – Mexico border. When the agents arrived at the location, Barron-Torres, a 17-year-old Mexican national, and three other individuals were on the Mexico side of the border fence and started throwing rocks at the two USBP agents who were on the U.S. side of the fence. A fifth individual, who was carrying a bundle of suspected narcotics, ran parallel to the fence on the U.S. side. The agents were forced to take protective cover due to the rocks that were being thrown by Barron-Torres and his associates. The agents issued commands, in Spanish, to stop throwing rocks. However, Barron-Torres continued to throw rocks, and one of the agents fired a round at Barron-Torres from his service weapon, fatally striking him. A videotape of the incident captured Barron-Torres making a throwing motion with his right arm, then falling to the ground.
The Department of Justice lacks jurisdiction to prosecute the agent who fired at Barron-Torres under the federal criminal civil rights statute pertaining to use of force under color of law, because the statute requires that the victim be in the United States when he was injured. Here, Barron-Torres was on the Mexico side of the border fence when he was shot. While the federal homicide statutes address murder and manslaughter committed within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States, federal courts have consistently held that self-defense and justification are both defenses to the federal homicide statutes. Although the agent was within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction when he fired upon Barron-Torres, there is insufficient evidence to disprove the agent’s claim that he shot Barron-Torres in self-defense; because Barron-Torres was throwing rocks over the border fence in the direction of the agents and ignored the agents’ commands to stop. Rather, the videotape of the incident, another witness agent and a civilian witness on the Mexico side of the fence all corroborate the account of the agent who fired at Barron-Torres.
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.