Border Patrol revises account of why agent shot and killed 19-year-old Guatemalan immigrant

TEXAS – Federal authorities last week walked back a claim that a U.S. Border Patrol agent who fatally shot a 19-year-old immigrant woman earlier last week opened fire because a group of immigrants had started to hit him with “blunt objects,” according to the Associated Press. Friday, a news release issued by Border Patrol dropped the reference to an attack with blunt objects in the deadly encounter that occurred Wednesday afternoon in Rio Bravo, a small town just south of Laredo.

“According to the agent, the group ignored his verbal commands and instead rushed him,” states the news release.

When asked about the difference in reporting what happened, a Border Patrol spokesman declined to comment, citing the open investigation.

A witness had already disputed the original report that the immigrants had attacked, saying that the group was hiding when the Border Patrol agent found them and that no one in the group had a weapon.

Federal authorities haven’t released the woman’s name, but the Guatemala Foreign Ministry has confirmed the victim was Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez of Guatemala and condemned the death.

The attorney for the agent, a 15-year Border Patrol veteran whose name has not been released, said his client had not committed any wrongdoing.

“This matter is being investigated, and rightfully so, by every three-letter acronym under the sun, including the Texas Rangers,” said attorney George Altgelt. “We welcome their investigation and are confident that the evidence will prove my client’s innocence.

“It is common knowledge and common sense that being a Border Patrol agent is a dangerous job. Every day the men and women in green put their lives on the line so that we can sleep and live safely here in Laredo.” The case unfolded last week when the agent responded to a report of illegal activity near a culvert in Rio Bravo. He discovered a group of immigrants who had entered the country illegally, the federal agency said. He fired one round from his service-issued weapon, fatally striking the woman.

Dominga Vicente, the victim’s aunt, said Gomez had graduated as a forensic accountant but was unable to find a job, so she left Guatemala.

The Laredo Immigrant Alliance, whose leaders said they were “outraged” by Gomez’s death, planned to hold a vigil Saturday night at Tres Laredos Park in Laredo to honor Gomez and others who have lost their lives on the border.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Border Rights Center also was concerned about the details surrounding Gomez’s death and cited a recent analysis conducted by The Guardian showing that Border Patrol agents have been involved in nearly 100 “fatal encounters” since 2003 and have paid out roughly $60 million in wrongful death settlements.

ACLU officials have called for Border Patrol to expand its use of body cameras to every agent in the field; the federal agency is testing the use of body cameras in nine areas but Laredo is not one of them.