Jan. 25, 2016, use of force incident near Rodeo, New Mexico
On Jan. 25, 2016, a Border Patrol agent was dispatched to assist in the apprehension of two subjects that fled from a drug smuggling vehicle near Rodeo, New Mexico, earlier that day. The suspects fled on foot towards the Peloncillo Mountain Range and into an area known as Skull Canyon. The topography of the canyon is very steep grades of both rocky and loose dirt.
With the help of a helicopter from Air and Marine Operations, the agent located the subjects. The agent gave verbal commands to both suspects to show their hands, but they did not comply. Upon initial contact, the agent drew his gun but then re-holstered it to engage them hand to hand. He grabbed both subjects, who began kicking him and attempting to pull away. As the agent reoriented and grabbed one of the suspect’s feet, the suspect continued kicking the agent, striking him in the hands and upper body. Both subjects were able to run from the area in different directions.
Knowing one of the suspects was heading in the direction of another agent, the agent pursued and, with the assistance and direction of the pilot overhead, eventually caught up to the subject. Because the subjects were involved in narcotics smuggling – those smugglers are often armed – and because the suspect was concealing his hands, the agent suspected the subject had a weapon and drew his handgun a second time in precaution. The agent didn’t see a weapon, so he re-holstered his handgun and approached the subject.
While on an incline and with difficulty standing, the agent tried to handcuff the subject, who again attempted to kick the agent. The agent drew his baton and attempted to strike the suspect but instead hit the overhead and surrounding tree branches. The subject tried punching the agent, and the agent thought the subject was under the influence of drugs due to his stamina and willingness to fight even after a lengthy pursuit.
The subject threw a handful of fine, loose dirt into the agent’s face, causing a temporary loss of vision. After another volley of dirt and rocks in his face and head, the agent got one eye opened enough to see the subject lunge toward him. Knowing that there was a cliff behind him and believing that suspect was going to push him off, the agent drew his handgun and fired one round at the subject, hitting him. The suspect survived his injuries. The agent was then able to clear the dirt from his eyes and take the subject into custody without further incident.
Result of the NUFRB
On Sept. 14, 2017, the CBP National Use of Force Review Board (NUFRB) considered whether the deployment of a collapsible straight baton and the discharge of a CBP-issued handgun by the agent were in compliance with CBP use of force policy in effect at the time of the incident. The NUFRB concluded both the deployment of the baton and the discharge of a CBP-issued handgun by the agent were in compliance with CBP Use of Force Policy in effect at the time of the incident.
Consistent with the mandate to review and report on potential improvements to policy and training, the NUFRB made no formal recommendations following their consideration of this incident.