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October 2, 2012, use of force incident in the Mule Mountains near Bisbee, AZ

Incident Date: 
Tuesday, October 2, 2012

“The lack of publicly available information regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie, gave rise to many misinformed theories, inaccurate accounts, and misinformation such that U.S. Customs and Border Protection felt compelled to provide the case summary now so that we can correct the record regarding this Agent who served with honor and lost his life while serving his country.”

On the evening of October 1, 2012, three Border Patrol agents were performing line watch duties in the remote Remax Saddle area of the Mule Mountains, near Bisbee, Arizona. Remax Saddle is located on a ridgeline with no roads leading directly to it, leaving it only accessible by foot. Remax Saddle has moderate vegetation and rocky terrain. Multiple trails also cross through the Saddle from different directions. This area was known to receive heavy foot traffic from drug and alien smugglers.

Shortly after 11:00 p.m., agents assigned to the Brian A. Terry Station became aware of sensor activity in their vicinity. Two agents, responding in tandem, began approaching the sensor location from the south.  Around this time, BPA Nicholas Ivie informed the tandem he would also respond to the sensor, approaching from the north.

According to radio transmissions, at approximately midnight, BPA Ivie headed south and parked his unit at the end of Remax Wash Road. BPA Ivie exited the vehicle and began to ascend up the mountain on foot, toward Remax Saddle. Simultaneously, the other two agents began their approach from the south, also on foot. None of the agents carried night vision goggles. As the agent in front was approaching from the south, his service radio began to function intermittently.  At this point he was forced to relay all communications to the second agent approaching from the south for dissemination over the service radio. As the two agents approached from the south, they noticed a light approximately one mile from their location.  They again noticed the light as they approached within a half mile of Remax Saddle. They believed the light source was coming from BPA Ivie.

On October 2, 2012, shortly after 1:00 a.m., BPA Ivie transmitted a radio call reporting he had arrived at Remax Saddle.  The agent with the currently functioning service radio acknowledged the call.  Soon thereafter, the tandem approaching from the south entered Remax Saddle, with one agent approximately ten feet in front of the other.

A radio miscommunication regarding their relative positioning and proximity resulted in the parties encountering each other sooner than expected. The ensuing engagement resulted in an exchange of gunfire between BPA Ivie and the lead agent.

The second of the paired agents transmitted “Shots fired” over the service radio.  The first, and now wounded agent, then transmitted, “Shots fired, I’ve been hit.”  The lead agent subsequently attempted to contact BPA Ivie unsuccessfully.  The pair then waited for backup to arrive at their location.  At around 2:00 a.m., backup arrived.  One of the agents arriving on-scene saw a motionless body on the north side of Remax Saddle and ran to help.  The agent confirmed it was BPA Ivie.

An Evidence Response Team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Border Patrol's Critical Incident Team arrived and processed the scene. The investigation determined the blood trail at the scene was consistent with the wounded agent’s reported movements after being shot.  All recovered shell casings were found to belong to BPA Ivie and the wounded agent. An extensive search of the area was conducted for other weapons, ammunition and casings. A weapons and ammunition canine was brought in from a nearby police department. No additional weapons or ammunition were discovered. Litter and footprints were found within the scene but nothing that could be linked to the time of the shooting. An extensive search was conducted to identify any possible suspects or additional evidence linked to the incident. The search, involving several law enforcement agencies, began immediately after the incident and continued through October 6, 2012 with negative results.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General independently determined the exchange of gunfire was a friendly-fire accident. No fault or blame was assigned by either entity. Investigators found no physical evidence which indicated anyone else, other than BPA Ivie and agents who approached in tandem, had been at the scene at the time of the shooting. CBP's Use of Force Incident Team was not activated during this shooting incident as the UFIT was not operational in October 2012.

Result of the NUFRB

On December 9, 2014, CBP's National Use of Force Review Board (NUFRB) reviewed the facts of the incident.  The NUFRB was tasked to determine if the applications of force were within policy or if the case should be referred for an investigation of possible policy violations.  The NUFRB conducted its analysis with the understanding that applications of force often occur under tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving situations.  The NUFRB found no violation of CBP policy and assigned no blame or fault to any agent involved in the incident.

Last modified: 
September 6, 2017