A Border Patrol agent from the Douglas Station told investigators he killed an undocumented migrant because he was in fear for his life and safety, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.
The fatal shooting occurred late Feb. 19 in a remote and rugged mountainous area about 32 miles northeast of Douglas, investigators said.
The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office said earlier this week that the migrant — a 32-year-old man from Puebla, Mexico, identified as Carmelo Cruz Marcos — died from multiple gunshot wounds.
Medical Examiner Dr. Greg Hess said Thursday he would not have anything further on the autopsy until the final report is released in a few weeks.
The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the shooting and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are handling the internal affairs portion of the query.
In a statement released Thursday, the Sheriff’s Office provided information based on the interview they conducted with the agent who shot Cruz.
“During the agent interview, he advised that the male subject turned and struck him in the left shoulder with the fist glancing up into the agent’s cheek,” the Sheriff’s Office said. “The agent then tackled the subject who was face down with his hands under his body and refusing to change position.
“The scuffle reportedly continued, and a second assault occurred on the agent when the subject threw his elbow backwards into the agent before getting up from the ground,” the Sheriff’s Office said. “The subject then ran approximately six feet away before picking up a large rock and turning back towards the agent making a throwing motion with the hand that held the rock.
“The agent advised that he fired his weapon an unknown number of times as he was in fear for his life and safety ... ,” the Sheriff’s Office said.
There were two Border Patrol agents on horseback from the Douglas Station that evening. The agents had received information there were migrants northeast of Douglas.
When the Border Patrol agents arrived at a spot called Skeleton Canyon, they dismounted their horses because of the terrain. The agents saw three migrants who were scattering about the area. One agent chased one of the migrants downhill, and the second agent ran after the other two uphill, the Sheriff’s Office said.
After the trio was secured, the agents saw a fourth man under a tree who also bolted downhill. One of the agents took off after the fourth individual. Both the agent and the migrant tripped and fell several times, the Sheriff’s Office said. When the agent was able to grab the individual, that’s when the scuffle began and ended with the shooting, the Sheriff’s Office said.
At that point, the second Border Patrol agent responded and noticed that the undocumented migrant was on the ground, the Sheriff’s Office said. Additional agents and a medic reported to the scene and the Sheriff’s Office was notified, said Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carol Capas.
The group of undocumented migrants who had been arrested and the agents involved in the initial incident were interviewed separately by the Sheriff’s Office, Capas said.
The investigation remains open.
Because the shooting involved a Mexican national, the Mexican Consulate in Douglas is asking for a full investigation, said Consul Ricardo Pineda Albarran.
In a brief telephone interview Wednesday morning, Pineda said if it’s determined that the shooting was not justified, he expects measures will be taken to bring the agent to justice.
Capas said the Border Patrol agent would face charges in Cochise County if it is determined his actions were not justified.
Agents have been involved in an increasing number of use-of-force incidents in recent years. During former President Donald Trump’s final 28 months in office, CBP recorded a monthly average of 50 use-of-force incidents. Under President Joe Biden, incidents have increased to a monthly average of 70.
There also have been more fatalities involving Border Patrol agents, and the number of encounters with migrants has surged at an even higher rate.
Nearly 60 Border Patrol encounters resulted in deaths in 2021, three times as many as in 2019 and four times as many as the decade’s yearly average.
Customs and Border Protection spokesman John Mennell said earlier this week that aside from the Sheriff’s Office, the shooting is under review by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility. Once that concludes, the incident will be reviewed by the federal agency’s National Use of Force Review Board.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.