Lenny Ignelzi/AP file photo

Border Patrol Agents: Let Us Shoot at Rock Throwers

Union defends use of force despite recent backlash.

Amid reports of improper use of force, U.S. Border Patrol agents are defending their use of lethal weapons against criminals and undocumented aliens who throw rocks at them.

The National Border Patrol Council, which represents 17,000 BP agents and staff, said Monday both the Homeland Security Department’s use of force policy and precedent set in federal court support the use of firearms against an individual throwing rocks. In the 1989 case Graham v. Connor, the Supreme Court said an “objective reasonableness” standard -- to include severity of the crime being committed, the immediate threat and whether the assailant is resisting arrest -- should be used in determining whether law enforcement has used excessive force.

“Rocks can maim and kill just as easily as a knife or a firearm,” NBPC said in a statement. “Every day on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, Border Patrol agents are assaulted with rocks, bricks, and other projectiles. These weapons are readily available and have the potential to do great harm.”

The issue was pushed to the forefront recently when BP agent Daniel Basinger shot and killed an undocumented immigrant near San Diego Feb. 18 after being hit in the head by a rock. An independent report commissioned by Customs and Border Protection and unveiled last week found agents went out of their way to cause conflict and thereby justify shooting people throwing rocks who came from the Mexican side of the border. The review examined 67 shooting incidents, 19 of which resulted in deaths.  

In 185 rock assaults in fiscal 2012, agents did not use force in response in 121 incidents, responded with a firearm 22 times and used less lethal force on 42 occasions, according to the DHS inspector general.

CBP rejected recommendations made by the independent review, according to the LA Times, including one suggesting that border agents should only shoot at vehicles when their occupants are trying to kill the agents and another that they should not shoot at people who throw objects that cannot cause serious injury. The report found agents could simply move out of the way of incoming rocks.

NBPC said the focus should not be on the fact that immigrants were throwing rocks, but instead that the agents were under assault.

“Agents, when under attack, cannot wait to see the extent of possible injuries before responding,” the council said. “Such hesitation could lead to the agent being killed, whether outright by rocks or after being injured and disarmed.”

It added that restricting an agent’s ability to use force would only encourage an assailant who would know of such a restriction, and dismissed the notion that an agent would ever intentionally step in the way of a vehicle or a rock to justify using a firearm.

In light of the recent backlash, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has said he will reconsider the department’s use of force policy.