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California and the West

Border Patrol Agent Kills Immigrant

Violence: Man was shot near San Diego after threatening officer with a rock, officials say. Mexico says witnesses dispute that account.

September 28, 1998|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — In the first such incident in San Diego in years, a Border Patrol agent fatally shot a suspected undocumented immigrant during an attempted arrest Saturday night, authorities said Sunday.

Officials said the immigrant was struck in the torso after he picked up a rock and approached an agent who was struggling with another suspect at the border fence near the San Ysidro crossing.

"The agent ordered him to drop the rock and stop. [The man] went on in an aggressive manner," said Border Patrol spokesman Mario Villarreal. "The agent discharged his service firearm in self-defense, striking the individual in the torso."

The man, identified by Mexican authorities as Oscar Abel Cordoba Velez, 23, of Guadalajara, was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after the 9 p.m. shooting. The agent was placed on the customary administrative leave while San Diego police and the FBI investigate the shooting.

U.S. officials said it was the first fatal shooting involving a San Diego-based Border Patrol agent since at least 1995. Mexican authorities said the last such fatal incident in San Diego County occurred in August 1994.

Mexican officials expressed deep concern over the shooting and said witnesses who were part of the group of immigrants disputed accounts that the man was carrying a rock. A statement issued Sunday by the Mexican Consulate in San Diego said witnesses reported that Cordova Velez was seeking to distract the agent and carried no weapon.

"What concerns us is the fact that excessive force may have been used," said Luis Herrera-Lasso, Mexico's consul general in San Diego.

The border has seen other deadly confrontations involving Border Patrol agents in recent months. Three weeks ago, an agent in San Luis, Ariz., shot and killed an illegal border crosser who allegedly threatened him with a rock. An agent in Tucson was fatally shot in June while trying to arrest suspected marijuana smugglers.

The fatal episode Saturday was the third shooting incident involving Border Patrol agents in San Diego County in three days.

On Thursday, an agent wounded a suspected illegal immigrant during what authorities described as an attempted hit-and-run in a mountainous area in the eastern part of the county. The driver was shot in the chest after allegedly trying to run over the agent during the arrest of suspected illegal immigrants.

Early Saturday morning, an agent fired but hit no one after the driver of a vehicle that he had stopped suddenly backed toward him. The driver, a 25-year-old undocumented immigrant, sped off but was arrested after crashing the vehicle in eastern San Diego County.

The fatal shooting occurred after two agents tried to arrest three people who had crossed the 10-foot border fence in hilly terrain east of San Ysidro. One man escaped and another--Cordoba Velez--straddled the fence, officials said. The agent pulled the third to the ground and was struggling with him when a flurry of rocks flew from the Mexican side of the fence, according to the Border Patrol and San Diego police.

The agent fired after Cordoba Velez climbed down from the fence and, apparently seeking to help his friend, raised a rock over his head and approached the agent, police said.

The suspect with whom the agent had been struggling fled over the fence into a heavily populated Tijuana neighborhood, a spot known as a staging area for undocumented border crossers.

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