In the second lethal shooting in 24 hours, a Border Patrol agent Sunday night killed a suspected undocumented immigrant who allegedly threatened him with a rock near the border in San Diego, officials said.
The fatal shootings were the first involving Border Patrol agents in San Diego County since 1994 and the first since the Operation Gatekeeper border crackdown flooded the region with agents, according to Mexican consul officials in San Diego.
U.S. officials said Sunday's shooting occurred in Border Field State Park, a few miles west of the San Ysidro border crossing. The agent was checking for footprints when he was pelted by rocks, officials said. As the agent retreated to his vehicle, a man emerged from the darkness wielding a rock and ignored orders to stop.
"Fearing for his life, [the agent] brings out the weapon and shoots this person, striking the person in the torso area," Border Patrol spokeswoman Gloria Chavez said. San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Jerry Lipscomb, who is investigating the shooting, said the agent fired "several shots." The man died at the scene of the 8:30 p.m. shooting.
Citing Border Patrol policy, Chavez did not identify the agent, who was placed on paid administrative leave while the matter is investigated.
The shooting came just a day after another agent fatally shot a suspected illegal immigrant trying to aid a fellow immigrant east of the San Ysidro port of entry. In that incident, about 9 p.m. Saturday, U.S. officials said the agent was struggling with a migrant next to the 10-foot border fence when approached by a second immigrant clutching a rock. The agent fired after the man ignored warnings to stop, according to the Border Patrol and San Diego police.
But Mexican authorities said witnesses interviewed by consular officials disputed reports that the man had a rock.
Mexico's consul general in San Diego, Luis Herrera-Lasso, expressed deep concern Monday over the two fatal shootings, plus two separate incidents last week in which Border Patrol agents elsewhere in San Diego County fired weapons at drivers who allegedly tried to run them over. In one of those cases, a 25-year-old driver believed to be an undocumented immigrant was wounded in the chest. In the other, the agent missed and the driver was arrested after crashing his car.
"We are very much concerned about this situation because we know that in the past three years, more than three years, the Border Patrol has managed to control the situation without using their weapons," Herrera-Lasso said during a news conference.
The Mexican diplomat added that cases of rock throwing are familiar to border agents and previously have not been answered with deadly force. He called for a full investigation.
"Something is going wrong," Herrera-Lasso said.
It is not uncommon for agents patrolling the border fence to be pelted with rocks. Some agents have been hurt during rock assaults.
Chavez, the Border Patrol spokeswoman, said the agent involved in the shooting Sunday night was struck by at least one rock. The extent of injuries was unclear.
The agent was checking for tracks after an underground sensor was triggered about a mile east of the beach near a desolate area called Goat Canyon, frequently used by smugglers.
The Border Patrol policy for using deadly force is broadly worded, allowing the use of firearms "only with the intent of stopping the person or animal from continuing the threatening behavior which justifies the use of deadly force."
Chavez said agents must judge each situation individually.
"You're out there. You, by yourself, are going to encounter different situations. You have to decide for yourself how you're going to handle them," she said.