Boy, 15, Shot by Border Patrol Is Expected to Recover

Times Staff Writer

A 15-year-old Mexican boy who reportedly threatened a U.S. Border Patrol agent with a rock was expected to recover after being shot by another officer, authorities said Monday.

The incident, which occurred late Sunday along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, is the latest of several Border Patrol shootings of undocumented border-crossers purported to have been brandishing rocks.

In this case, as in others, critics maintain that the patrol's response with a bullet to the threat of the stones was excessive. But patrol officials have said that the rocks represent potentially life-threatening weapons.

The latest shooting occurred not far from the place where, on Aug. 20, a Border Patrol van ran over and killed a 14-year-old Mexican boy. U. S. officials say that was a regrettable accident, but the boy's family has maintained through a lawyer that the agent was driving recklessly.

Hundreds Massed at Border

In Sunday's shooting, San Diego police said, Border Patrol agent Terry Manning, 34, fired at the teen-ager along the border in San Diego after the boy grabbed a "softball-sized" rock and cocked his arm as if to throw it at another agent, Frederick Vetter, 26. The incident occurred shortly before midnight, at a time when hundreds--perhaps as many as 1,000--illegal aliens had massed in the area of the Tijuana River levees, west of the port of entry at San Ysidro.

At the time, authorities said, the two agents were on foot chasing a group of suspected undocumented border-crossers along the banks of the Tijuana River. Agent Vetter became entangled in a physical struggle with one suspect, according to the Border Patrol. Other illegal aliens then began to pelt the agent with stones, authorities said. When agent Vetter called for help, officials said, agent Manning arrived and, eventually, discharged his weapon.

Before he was shot, the Border Patrol said, the boy ignored a command to drop the stone. When he was shot, the patrol said, the boy was within 7 feet of the agent who was involved in the struggle.

While awaiting the results of investigation by San Diego police, who have jurisdiction, Michael D. Gregg, a Border Patrol supervisory agent, said a preliminary review indicates that the shooting was justified. The agents involved will probably not be removed from active duty, Gregg said, unless they suffered trauma from the incident.

"There is no reason to believe that the agent acted in anything other than in defense of his partner," Gregg said.

Shot in Abdomen

Roberto Martinez, a longtime Latino rights advocate who follows border issues, said he did not believe that any rock-throwing incidents merit life-threatening responses by the Border Patrol. "How can you compare a rock to a bullet?" asked Martinez, who is employed by the American Friends Service Committee, social action arm of the Quaker Church.

The boy, identified as Pedro Garcia Hernandez, of the Mexican interior state of Guerrero, was listed in "fair to good" condition Monday at UC San Diego Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said. He was shot once in the abdomen. The boy was taken to the hospital by Life Flight helicopter.

The wounded boy and a friend, identified as Arturo Garcia Beltran, 18, also a Mexican citizen in the United States illegally, were to face charges of assaulting a federal officer, said Bill Robinson, a police spokesman. It was not immediately known if the two were related. Garcia Beltran was identified as the man who was struggling with the agent, eventually resulting in the shooting.

The 15-year-old boy shot Sunday is at least the second alleged rock-thrower shot by Border Patrol agents this year in the San Diego area.

In a case stemming from a March incident, the victim, Francisco Ruiz Chavez, 23, was acquitted last month on charges of assaulting the agent, Walter Mark Davenport. Ruiz later announced that he was filing a multimillion-dollar claim against the Border Patrol for having wrongly shot him and having assaulted his wife, who was pregnant.

In perhaps the best-known such case, a Border Patrol agent shot a 12-year-old Tijuana boy in the back in 1985 as the boy stood in Mexican territory, allegedly throwing stones at the agent. U.S. authorities declined to prosecute the agent, ruling that the shooting was justified.

But a U.S. district judge in San Diego eventually awarded the boy, Humberto Carrillo Estrada, $570,000 in damages. The judge ruled that the agent's version of the events lacked credibility.

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