Victim of Border Shooting Is Brought to S.D. Hospital
A seriously wounded Mexican was moved by ambulance Thursday from a Tijuana clinic to a San Diego hospital, where his American wife charged that he had been shot in the back by U.S. Border Patrol agents who mistakenly believed he was throwing rocks at them.
Juana Mendez Pulido said her husband was shot from behind Monday night as he and two friends ran back into Mexico near the Otay Mesa crossing after hearing a loud commotion between Border Patrol officers on the U.S. side and a van full of Mexicans south of the border.
She said her husband told her the Mexicans threw rocks at the agents and that the agents responded by firing three rounds across the border. In the melee, she said, her husband, Ignacio Mendez Pulido, was shot in the left side of the back, the bullet penetrating his spinal column.
She said her husband described the scene: “The agents were screaming, Ignacio started running, people went running all over. He jumped the fence back into Mexico and then he fell in the middle of the street. His friends told him to get up and he said he couldn’t get up.”
The case is gathering momentum as the Mexican Embassy in Washington, urged on by officials from the Mexican Consulate in San Diego, filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of State.
“We are upset and concerned,” Leonardo Ffrench, minister of public affairs for the Mexican embassy, said Thursday. “People simply should not be allowed to take violent reactions to human problems. I think these are cases that ought to be solved through reason and not through force.
“And this is a matter of special concern in that a weapon was fired from the U.S. side of the border against a Mexican citizen who was on Mexican soil.”
Ffrench said the complaint, officially called a diplomatic note, urges the United States to conduct a speedy investigation into the shooting and ensure that “those responsible are fully prosecuted and duly penalized.”
Also on Thursday, Roberto Martinez, leader of the Coalition for Law and Justice in San Diego, said his group was investigating the shooting, which he termed another example of Border Patrol officers shooting innocent Mexican citizens.
Less than three years ago, Humberto Carrillo Estrada, a 12-year-old Tijuana youth, was shot after he allegedly threw rocks at Border Patrol agents. In both the Carrillo and Mendez cases, the victims were shot while standing on Mexican territory by Border Patrol agents firing from U.S. soil.
In addition, the attorney who successfully tried a civil lawsuit on behalf of the Carrillo youth against the federal government is now representing Mendez.
“Obviously they violated international sovereignty by shooting across the border,” Martinez said. “And then shooting him in the back, which is a cowardly act in itself. It’s turned into a killing field out there along the border.”
Martinez’ coalition, which has been contacted by Juana Mendez, will forward any information it turns up to the Mexican Consulate.
Asked why the coalition would deal with Mexican rather than U.S. authorities, Martinez said: “What other level can we go to when the situation is totally out of control?”
Harold Ezell, Western regional commissioner for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said Thursday that the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility was investigating the shooting.
A key to the case will be what prompted the gunfire. Ezell said the two agents were transporting an illegal alien in their custody when they came under a barrage of rocks thrown at them from the Mexican side. He said the Border Patrol vehicle was seriously damaged and that the illegal alien suffered a broken nose and facial cuts.
He also stressed that the agents fired their weapons in self-defense, and not because they believed they were being shot at.
“I don’t believe our guys said they were under fire,” Ezell said Thursday. “But that is something that has to be determined. I don’t want to prejudice the investigation.”
But Ezell also said that U.S. authorities have not completely determined that anyone was shot by the Border Patrol. After the shots were fired, he said, a helicopter conducting an immediate aerial search of the area found no victims.
Jim Turnage, INS district director, said that just because Ignacio Mendez was allowed entry into the U.S. for hospital treatment, that does not mean the U.S. government acknowledges he was shot by the Border Patrol.
“This in no way accepts any responsibility or liability by the U.S. government,” Turnage said. “We made a search and couldn’t find him. And now he appears back there in an ambulance in the middle of the night (3:30 a.m. Thursday morning).”
However, Juana Mendez gave this explanation of the shooting and the delay in seeking U.S. medical treatment:
She said she originally dropped her husband and two friends off near the border about 6 p.m. Monday. She said she is eight months pregnant with their son and that she has been staying with relatives in San Diego in preparation for the birth.
Living in Tijuana
She said her husband, a 23-year-old car mechanic, has been living in Tijuana, but had planned to come to the United States to visit her during the Christmas holidays.
She said she was notified of the shooting about midnight Monday, and she learned that as soon as her husband was shot, he was driven by a passing motorist to a Tijuana clinic.
But she described the clinic as being unsanitary, with rats and unclean bedding. “I was scared,” she said. “I didn’t care who shot him. I just wanted somebody to take him to the U.S. where I knew he could get better.”
She said she went to the border at 5 a.m. Tuesday and told U.S. officials that her husband had been shot by the Border Patrol. She said U.S. and Mexican border officials accompanied her back to the clinic, observed her husband and helped arrange his transfer to the Del Prado Hospital in Tijuana.
But she said she was still unsatisfied with the medical care. She said Mexican doctors performed three hours of exploratory surgery, but were unable to remove the bullet. She said they told her he was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
“They told me not to hope, not to have any dreams that he would walk again,” she said. “They said his spine couldn’t be repaired.
“But I couldn’t accept that.”
Contacted by Attorney
She said she was contacted by Marco Lopez, a Los Angeles attorney, through his associate in Tijuana. Lopez, who earlier represented the Carrillo youth, met her Wednesday at the hospital.
The three of them--Lopez and the Mendez couple--then arrived by ambulance at the border about 3:30 a.m. Thursday. After an hour’s wait, in which Lopez presented an affidavit pledging financial responsibility for Mendez’ care in a U.S. hospital, the ambulance was cleared into the United States.