bpat-rocks12Last Friday, October 9, 2015, for the first time a Border Patrol Agent was arraigned on murder charges for a cross-border rock-throwing incident. Lonnie Ray Swartz was indicted by a grand jury on September 23, 2015 on second-degree murder charges. The indictment read “Lonnie Ray Swartz, did with malice aforethought, and while armed with a P2000 semiautomatic pistol,” killed Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. Swartz fired ten rounds through the border fence in Nogales on October 10, 2012, killing Elena.

Jose Elena was 16 years-old when he was killed. The autopsy report showed that Elena was hit eight times with all of the bullets, except for one hitting him in the back. Swartz has argued that he shot in self-defense. Swartz claims that Elena was part of a group of children that were throwing rocks at him.

Swartz’ ten rounds were part of a fusillade of “between 14 to 30” rounds that were shot by border patrol agents across the border into Mexico, in response to an alleged rock throwing from the Mexican side.

Prior to Swartz’ indictment and last week’s arraignment, the US federal government had argued that those killed by agents on the Mexicans side of the border did not have constitutional guarantees and thus Border Patrol Agents could not be sued or prosecuted for the deaths. As a matter of fact, Swartz claimed immunity from litigation “because the U.S. Constitution does not apply in Mexico.”

However, in late June of 2014, the 5th U.S Court of Appeals ruled that even though the victims are outside of the United States, they still have constitutional guarantees. The ruling was in response to a civil lawsuit filed by the family of Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, who was killed by Jesus Mesa, a Border Patrol Agent working in El Paso at the time of that shooting.

The indictment and arraignment of Lonnie Swartz is the first time that a border patrol agent has been indicted and arraigned for shooting across the border. Although the process is expected to take a long time, the fact is that the indictment of Swartz shows that US constitutional protections do not end at the border.

Other than Johnny Sutton’s prosecution of former Border Patrol Agents, Compean and Ramos on a cover-up after a shooting, Border Patrol Agents are rarely prosecuted for crimes outside of corruption charges. This has led to the numerous deaths of Mexican nationals who have been killed by agents shooting into Mexico. The sentences of Compean and Ramos were commuted by President George Bush in 2009. {link to the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, Report of Investigation on Ignacio Ramos & Jose Compean, et al.}

There is a long way to go but it is a good start that Lonnie Swartz will be prosecuted for shooting across the international border.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

3 replies on “Border Patrol Agent Arraigned on Murder Charges for Rock Throwing Death”

  1. Any death is tragic. I understand the family’s feelings and desire fort justice.

    Where were the parents, I’m sure this wasn’t a one time rock throwing event. When will the Mexican government take responsibility for patrolling the border? Many of the incidents wouldn’t occur if the Mexican police would at least chase the instigators away. Wondering could the agent sue the Mexican government for negligence? Or counter sue that parents failed to supervise the teenager? Just curious.

    Yes, he was a teenager, but with a record and old enough to know better. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have at least fired into the air. Getting hit with a rock is serious business. It can be fatal or maiming. So it’s not just some kid throwing pebbles. I believe if you threw a rock at a local police officer, you could get shot. Rocks are a deadly weapon.

    Ten shots is excessive. He could have fired one shot as a warning and retreated. That probably is the basis for an indictment.

    Two lives ruin forever. One 16 year old that lost his life over something stupid and one adult that probably lost it and fired a barrage.

    Who’s fault ? It becomes the chicken or the egg argument.

  2. How many times have I heard about indignant Americans who were caught illegally carrying their handguns into Canada and were stopped in their tracks by our border services. A significant number of Americans have no respect for the borders or the laws of other countries. Just take a look at some historical maps and see how many time Mexico has decreased in size as a result of Americans stealing land from them and then simply moving the border farther south. Stop being hypocrites.

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