Border Agent Who Shot Rock Throwing Mexican Teenager Acquitted

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
November 23, 2018US News

A Border Patrol agent was found not guilty in the death of a Mexican teenager who was pelting him with rocks.

The jury found Lonnie Swartz not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Swartz was in Arizona when he shot through the border fence in Nogales and killed Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, 16, in 2012. Swartz said he was under attack when he fired.

The Border Patrol considers rocks deadly weapons that justify a lethal response, reported the Arizona Republic, and Swartz said Rodriguez was hurling rocks at him when he fired. It was the first known case of an agent to be charged by the Justice Department for firing across the border and killing someone in Mexico.

During the trial, Swartz testified that he heard a police dog was hit by rocks and that another agent was hit by a rock and he feared for his life in addition to the lives of his fellow officers.

Lonnie Schwartz acquitted
Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz, left, makes his way to the U.S. District Court building in downtown Tucson, Arizona on March 21, 2018. (Ron Medvescek/Arizona Daily Star via AP, File)

He gave vivid details of the events before and after the shooting but said that his memory of the shooting itself had been “wiped away,” reported the Republic. He said he doesn’t remember firing 16 shots at Rodriguez.

Swartz’ attorney, Sean Chapman, said that Swartz was justified in using deadly force because Rodriguez and others with him were hurling rocks at border agents. Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst, who led prosecutors in the case, argued that Swartz committed second-degree murder because the agent fired at the teen even when the threat had passed.

Prosecutors also acknowledged that Rodriguez was lobbing rocks across the border during a drug smuggling attempt.

“We’re very pleased so far with the ‘not guilty’ verdict. I think justice was pretty much served,” said Art Del Cueto, a union president for the Border Patrol. “People were committing a crime, and while they were committing a crime, they attacked a federal agent. What did the federal agent do? He defended himself and he defended other agents.”

border patrol guards nogales fence
Border Patrol guards the fence at the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Ariz., on May 23, 2018. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
map of tuscon border sector
A map showing the Border Patrol station areas in the Tucson Sector in Arizona, at the Tucson Sector Border Patrol headquarters in Nogales, Ariz., on May 23, 2018. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The acquittal comes after a mistrial was declared in April over a second-degree murder charge in the case against Swartz. The jury also deadlocked on manslaughter, reported the Associated Press.

“From his first day in the Border Patrol, it had been ingrained in him that rocks were dangerous,” Chapman said after the mistrial.

Kleindienst claimed that Swartz “was angry,” prompting him to shoot, but showed no evidence to support the claim.

A civil case against Swartz is still pending and officials said there could be another retrial. U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins set a status hearing for May 11 and Kleindienst said he hopes to have more information about where the jury split by then, helping him decide whether to press for a re-trial, he told the Republic.

“It’s too soon to tell,” he added.

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