The family of a Mexican man who was shot and killed by U.S. Border Patrol agents two years ago has filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging that the agency sanctioned an unbridled use of deadly force in response to rock throwing.
The suit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Laredo, Texas, is the latest to argue that constitutional civil rights protections against excessive force should apply to noncitizens who are in Mexico.
Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that an agent could be sued for killing a 15-year-old Mexican boy in response to a rock throwing incident in El Paso, though the decision is being appealed.
The latest complaint stems from the killing of Guillermo Arevalo Pedraza, 37, who was shot on Sept. 3, 2012, while having a riverside picnic with his family on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, in Nuevo Laredo.
Shortly before the shooting, a Border Patrol boat had tried to apprehend a man in the river who was trying to swim back to the Mexican side, presumably to avoid arrest.
When the swimmer appeared to struggle, people in a park on the Mexican side started shouting at the agents in the boat to leave him alone.
Agents fired toward the shore and hit Pedraza, who was on a picnic with his wife, Nora Isabel Lam Gallegos, and two daughters.
After the shooting, the Border Patrol said people on shore were throwing rocks at the boat.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday says witnesses dispute that account and say no rocks were thrown. Even if there were, the suit says, the agents did not have to shoot.
“Clearly they weren’t in any danger, not even an inkling of danger,” said Robert Hilliard, the Corpus Christi attorney who filed the suit. “They could easily have moved the boat 40 yards upstream.”
U.S. officials have not identified the agents involved or released other details, saying the case is under a grand jury investigation.
The lawsuit says the fatal shots were fired by agent Christopher W. Boatwright.
Sara A. Melendez-De Los Santos, the Border Patrol public affairs officer in Laredo, said in an email that the agency "cannot comment on pending litigation” and that Boatwright also would not comment because of the investigation and lawsuit.
The lawsuit argues that Border Patrol policy allowed agents to shoot at rock throwers “regardless of whether the alleged rock-throwing posed an imminent risk of death or serious injury.”
Earlier this year, the agency announced new use-of-force guidelines that say agents should try to seek cover or retreat when faced with rock attacks.