Hours after the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency released two reports documenting its deadly force policies in an effort to promote transparency and public trust, a border patrol agent shot and killed an unarmed U.S. citizen, who was suspected of drug smuggling last week. The reports released by the CBP — a scathing external review of those policies alongside revised agency use of force policies — come after reports of a spate of violent incidents that resulted in 67 shooting incidents in which there were 19 deaths, ten of whom were U.S. citizens.
On Friday afternoon, Agent Daniel Marquez chased after and took nine shots at a suspected drug smuggler fled on foot for a quarter-mile after his vehicle got stuck while driving through a golf course. Once on foot, Marquez “fired his service weapon nine times, striking [Jose Luis Arambula] once.” The shot that killed Arambula went behind the left ear, according to a local ABC affiliate. Arambula was found unarmed.
During a press conference Monday, PCSD Detective David Theel said that Arambula turned towards Marquez “and ‘may have pointed at him’ and appeared he was ‘punching out — a firearms training term where the shooter has a two-handed grip’ as if to provide a good shooting platform,” Green Valley News reported. Twenty-one bales of marijuana, weighing about 500 pounds, was later found in Arambula’s car.
The dramatic shootout of an unarmed suspected drug smuggler has called into question whether CBP followed its own handbook recommendations. That handbook authorizes deadly force if “there is probable cause to believe that the subject has inflicted or threatens to inflict serious physical injury or death to the officer/agent or to another person; and the escape of the subject poses an imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to the officer/agent or to another person.” Although those guidelines were similar to the ones recommended by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report, which was released internally more than a year before it was made public, PERF has been especially critical of agents and officers who put themselves in harm’s way in order to justify using deadly force. Notably, in observing that “little focus has been placed on defensive tactics that could have been used,” PERF has urged agents to use less lethal force tactics, including getting out of the way of oncoming vehicles instead of discharging their weapons at vehicles.
Green Valley News reported that the “investigation will be forwarded to the Pima County Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether there will be any charges” against the agent.
During the reports’ release, CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced that his agency was committed to holding its agents “accountable” and would help address the “need for openness and transparency.” According to McClatchy DC, Kerlikowske declined to say whether the agency “would release the names of agents or officers involved in fatal shootings or the records relating to any possible previous instances of lethal force.” Kerlikowske added that he was committed to “only use force when it is necessary to protect people.”
The revised CBP use of force handbook incorporates some, but not major changes, recommended by PERF and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. The incorporated changes require additional training for use of safe tactics and requiring agents to carry less-lethal devices, like impact/chemical munition that are less lethal and a “controlled tire deflation deice specifically engineered to enhance agent and officer and public safety.” But a recommendation by the American Civil Liberties Union for agents to install body cameras was met with resistance by Kerlikowske who said that CBP is “’intent in trying this out,’ once it irons out legal issues of privacy, for instance, in cases involving migrants who are abused by smugglers,” according to McClatchy DC.
A report released by the American Immigration Council in May found that CBP’s internal affairs office took “no action” in 97 percent of complaints filed through nine southwestern sectors between the 2009 and 2012 fiscal years.