“Oh, man. I hope I don’t get convicted for this.” According to a witness Officer Agent Taylor Poiteven made that statement after he fatally shot Juan Mendez Jr., 18, in his back and sides as he was running away from him. Above a diagram from Juan Mendez Jr.'s autopsy shows his bullet wounds. [MORE]
From [HERE] Border Patrol agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have killed more than 40 people since 2005, according to government records and statistics kept by civil rights groups. The violence recently has accelerated – more than half of the killings have occurred in the past four years. A half-dozen of those more recent deaths involved teenagers like Juan Mendez.
The deaths have resulted from agents shooting at people throwing rocks from Mexico, confrontations with smugglers and, in one bizarre case, an incident in which an agent shot a Taser dart at a car that burst into flames with the driver inside. Among the dead are foreigners and U.S. citizens, Anglos and Latinos, old men and boys, criminals and one of the Border Patrol’s own. No agent has been convicted of any crime related to a death in any of the 40-plus incidents.
After shooting Mendez in the back, Taylor Poitevent faced no serious repercussions, despite his immediate worry about being convicted of killing an unarmed fleeing man. Nearly four years after the Oct. 5, 2010, shooting, he has not faced criminal charges. He went on administrative leave and eventually transferred to another Border Patrol station in South Texas, where he still works today.
Poitevent did not respond to requests for comment made to his family members.
The Justice Department declined to prosecute the agent. Investigators from the FBI closed their investigation in 2011, followed by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general in early 2012. The local district attorney concluded that he couldn’t prosecute a federal agent, and there was insufficient evidence to charge him anyway.
The decisions to neither prosecute nor investigate further relied heavily on what some officials consider to be a weak investigation by a Texas Ranger, whose credibility previously had been challenged. The local district attorney decided not to prosecute because a Border Patrol agent isn’t a Texas peace officer, which several officials regard as an interpretation of state law that is questionable at best.
For a dozen current and former local and federal law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the investigation, the fact that an agent shot a fleeing unarmed man and did not face criminal penalties is, like other such shootings, a miscarriage of justice.
“You don’t shoot someone in the back because they beat you up,” said Robert Sifuentes, the Maverick County Sheriff’s Office’s lead investigator into the Mendez shooting.
To critics, Mendez’s shooting death – and the lack of accountability – highlights the Border Patrol's evolving view of itself as a national security force, not a law enforcement agency.
“Unfortunately, this and other incidents are viewed by the general public as examples of the Border Patrol’s trigger-happy, ‘we can do what we want and get away with it’ attitude,” said Alonzo Peña, a former deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “How these few agents can continue to manage to do this is incredible and damaging to the hundreds of good agents that do their duty every day."
In many ways, the Mendez case is a fitting window into the rise of violence in the Border Patrol, part of the nation’s largest law enforcement agency. The shooting involves someone whose death would not ignite the same public interest or media scrutiny as one of several lethal cross-border shootings by the Border Patrol into Mexico, or an immigrant killed by police on the streets of New York City. Mendez was an 18-year-old high school dropout, convicted thief and neophyte drug runner living in an isolated Texas border town. He was a U.S. citizen. [MORE]