Border Patrol agents shot and killed the driver of a car that had been carrying unauthorized immigrants in Laredo, Texas, on Friday night after the car reversed into an agent and pinned him against another vehicle, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The encounter happened at about 9:40 p.m. local time when Border Patrol agents, working with officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Webb County Constable’s Office, responded to a report of possible human smuggling, the agency said.
The agents found a tractor-trailer carrying people suspected of having crossed the border illegally. The agents had started investigating when another car arrived, also carrying immigrants believed to have entered the country illegally, officials said.
Border Patrol agents and officials from Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of ICE, identified themselves as they approached the car, officials said.
But the driver “suddenly accelerated in reverse,” pinning a Border Patrol agent and a person whom he had been interviewing against another vehicle, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.
The driver did not respond to orders to stop, and “agents deployed lethal force to stop the threat,” the statement said.
The driver, who was not identified by name, died at the scene. The Border Patrol agent, who sustained leg injuries, was taken to a hospital and later released.
Two people who were also in the car were injured, according to Matthew Hudak, chief patrol agent for the Border Patrol’s Laredo sector. One was taken to a hospital and released, and the other remained hospitalized late Saturday, he said.
Hudak said the encounter was an example of the “aggressive tactics being used by smugglers.” He said he was grateful that the agent and the other two people who were hurt had sustained only minor injuries.
“Unfortunately, there was a loss of life in this incident, but agents did what they needed to do to protect their fellow agent and to protect the suspect that was being interviewed,” he said in a videotaped statement on Facebook.
The Laredo Police Department and the FBI were among the agencies investigating the shooting, officials said. The Laredo police and the Webb County Constable’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday. A spokesperson for the FBI’s San Antonio field office confirmed Sunday that the bureau was participating in the investigation.
Since January 2010, at least 111 people have died as a result of encounters with border agents, according to the Southern Border Communities Coalition, a group critical of the Border Patrol that has tallied news stories about the cases.
Excluding the fatal encounter in Laredo on Friday, at least 11 of those deaths — some of which have involved crashes after high-speed chases with the Border Patrol — have occurred this year, according to the group.
In 2013, a report commissioned by Customs and Border Protection on the use of deadly force by its officers and agents found a number of concerns, especially in cases where the agents had fired at vehicles and at people throwing rocks and other objects at agents.
The report reviewed 15 cases in which Customs and Border Protection agents had fired at vehicles and found that some of the shootings could have been avoided.
“It is suspected that in many vehicle shooting cases, the subject driver was attempting to flee from the agents who intentionally put themselves into the exit path of the vehicle, thereby exposing themselves to additional risk and creating justification for the use of deadly force,” the report said.
The report, by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group that supports law enforcement agencies with research and technical advice, recommended policy changes designed to restrict agents from shooting at vehicles.
It recommended that agents are trained to “get out of the way of oncoming vehicles as opposed to intentionally assuming a position in the path of such vehicles.”
It was not immediately clear Sunday whether Customs and Border Protection had adjusted its use-of-force policies in response to the report’s recommendations.