The investigation of the controversial shooting of a Mexican youth by a Border Patrol agent took an unusual twist Tuesday when Calexico police arrested two Mexican consular officials who allegedly attempted to bribe a police employee to learn the identity of the agent involved.
Officers from the Imperial County city made the arrests at a restaurant in nearby El Centro at 2:20 p.m. Tuesday after authorities arranged a sting in response to a bribe offer of $500 to $600, Calexico Police Chief Leslie Ginn said.
The two men in custody--both employees of the Mexican consul’s office here--were booked on suspicion of bribery, police said.
“Even if this were Joe Blow off the street, he’d have gone to jail for bribery too,” Ginn said.
The shooting victim, Eduardo Garcia Zamores, 15, was wounded in the torso Nov. 18 as he straddled the fence on the border between Calexico and Mexicali, the state capital of Baja California.
The agent contends he fired because the youth was about to throw a rock at him.
Zamores says the shooting was unprovoked and several witnesses have backed up his story.
The case has resulted in huge protests as well as charges and countercharges by investigators of each country against their counterparts. The youth has filed a $9-million negligence claim against the Border Patrol. The bribery allegation seems likely to escalate the controversy.
Ginn said a Calexico-based female Mexican consular official approached a female police employee Monday and offered $500 to $600 for the agent’s name. Mexican officials want to extradite the agent, but have been unable to obtain his name from U.S. authorities.
The police employee notified her superiors, Ginn said, and a decision was made to go ahead with a “meet” as part of a criminal bribery investigation.
The two Mexican officials met Tuesday with the police employee at a Denny’s restaurant in El Centro, while police had the scene under surveillance, Ginn said. The two consular officials allegedly handed over the cash and the police worker gave them a piece of paper on which was written a name--not that of the Border Patrol agent--then police moved in, Ginn said.
“They were arrested on the spot, brought down and booked into our city jail,” said Ginn, who has headed the small department for 5 1/2 years after a 29-year career as a San Diego police officer.
Arrested were Ascension Martinez Pena, 46, the consulate’s chancellor, or administrator, and Karla Elena Correa Ibarra, 27, a secretary, who allegedly made the initial contact with the police employee, Ginn said. Both were released on $5,000 bail.
The police chief said he believed neither of the two has diplomatic immunity, which is accorded to many representatives of foreign governments.
Marco E. Lopez, the San Diego attorney who is representing them, said he believed both were shielded from arrest by diplomatic protection.
“The big shots in Washington are going to have to explain that to me,” Ginn said.
Enrique Loaeza, the Mexican consul general in San Diego, declined to comment on specifics of the case.
Lopez contended that his clients were “entrapped” and that Calexico police were motivated by vindictiveness toward Mexican officials.
Ginn denied the allegations. The police chief has charged publicly that his investigation of the shooting is “at a standstill” because Mexican authorities have refused to provide him access to the victim and have impeded his inquiry.
Mexican officials contend that they have cooperated with police.