Tuesday, March 08, 2016

10 Shots Across the Border


Around 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 10, 2012, a police officer in Nogales, Ariz., named John Zuñiga received a call reporting suspicious activity on International Street, which runs directly alongside the Mexican border. Most of Zuñiga’s calls involved shoplifters at the local Walmart or domestic-violence complaints, but he also worked as a liaison with United States Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.). Though border security is the responsibility of the Border Patrol, the Nogales police can assist when illegal activity is happening stateside — if, for instance, drug smugglers have slipped over the fence and are making their way into Arizona.

For the past several decades, the population of Nogales has hovered around 20,000. The population of its Mexican sister city, also called Nogales, has grown in recent years to around 250,000. Depending on where you’re standing, the abutting cities can start to seem like a single, sprawling Nogales; modest homes cover the surrounding foothills in every direction, and for years, locals referred to the region as a singular entity, Ambos Nogales — Both Nogales...

...A Nogales police officer named Quinardo Garcia had arrived on the scene first and witnessed two men in camouflage pants and sweatshirts, with large taped bundles strapped to their backs, climbing the fence into the United States. ‘‘Based on my training and experience,’’ Garcia later wrote in his incident report, ‘‘I identified the bundles as marijuana and immediately called out the incident to assisting graveyard units.’’

Garcia chased the men on foot, but they disappeared into an overgrown residential yard. Fearing an ambush, Garcia decided to wait for backup. Within minutes, Zuñiga arrived, as did several Border Patrol agents. As they began to scope the area, Zuñiga spotted two men scaling the fence back into Mexico. ‘‘By the time I show up, they’re empty-handed, with nothing on their backs,’’ he told me.

Police officers and Border Patrol agents refrain from climbing onto the fence themselves, for reasons of both safety and jurisdiction. ‘‘I gave them numerous commands to climb down,’’ Zuñiga wrote in his own report. One of the men was having difficulty maintaining his grip and seemed on the verge of dropping back onto Arizona soil. ‘‘I then heard several rocks start hitting the ground,’’ Zuñiga wrote, ‘‘and I looked up, and I could see the rocks flying through the air.’’

So-called rockings are not uncommon occurrences at the border. The rocks are thrown from the Mexican side to distract agents and force them to take cover while smugglers pass contraband or make their escape. ‘‘When it’s dark out and you don’t know where they’re coming from,’’ one agent told me, ‘‘it’s a really tense situation.’

 What happened next remains contested. In their reports, Garcia and Zuñiga claimed to hear gunfire but could not say where the shooting was coming from. ‘‘I saw the rocks in the air and tried to take cover,’’ Zuñiga told me. ‘‘I heard shots fired, but I wasn’t sure who was shooting. The shots could have been from anywhere: behind me, from Mexico. I didn’t witness the actual shooting myself.’’

...The subject who was hit was not one of the men who had been climbing the fence but a 16-year-old resident of Nogales, Mexico, named José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, who was on the Mexican side of the border. He had been shot 10 times from behind; an autopsy later revealed that gunshot wounds to the head, lungs and arteries killed him. He was unarmed, carrying nothing but a cellphone...

No comments: