TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A U.S. Border Patrol agent charged with second-degree murder in the fatal cross-border shooting of a Mexican teen pleaded not guilty in federal court Friday.
Lonnie Swartz, who is on administrative leave, was allowed to remain free pending trial but he was forced to surrender his Border Patrol pistol and not travel outside Arizona and Nevada. His trial is scheduled for Nov. 17.
Swartz was indicted on Sept. 23 on one count of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, who was hit about 10 times by cross-border gunfire.
The Border Patrol has said that Elena Rodriguez was among a group of rock throwers endangering agents’ lives. His family insists the boy was walking home from a basketball game with friends and was not armed or hurling rocks.
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At the arraignment on Friday, the boy’s family was emotional and crying as Swartz left the courtroom.
“You don’t understand what I feel, as a mother. It’s very difficult being in the courtroom, seeing my son’s murderer,” said Araceli Rodriguez. Rodriguez lives in Mexico.
The Border Patrol Union has criticized the indictment, saying agents risk their lives every day and have to make quick decisions to protect themselves. The Mexican government says it welcomed the decision to indict Swartz.
Swartz also faces a federal civil rights lawsuit in the death of the teen, who was in Nogales, Sonora, on Oct. 10, 2012, when Swartz fired from Nogales, Arizona.
The Border Patrol has used deadly force more than 40 times in rock-throwing incidents, resulting in 10 deaths.
The case happened amid criticism that the Border Patrol uses force indiscriminately, a charge the agency has denied. Border Patrol agents are generally allowed to use lethal force against rock throwers because rocks can be deadly. Rock throwers have attacked agents more than 1,700 times since 2010, according to the agency.
Chapman tried to get the family’s lawsuit thrown out on the grounds that the Constitution does not apply to the boy, a Mexican citizen, because he was in Mexico at the time of the shooting.
A federal judge in July ruled that the lawsuit can go forward.
In a similar case in Texas, a federal appeals court ruled that a teen killed in Mexico by a border agent in El Paso, Texas, was not protected by the Constitution.
Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa Jr. shot 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca in 2010 near a bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.
Authorities said Mesa was trying to arrest immigrants who had illegally crossed into the country when rock throwers attacked him. Mesa fired his weapon across the Rio Grande, striking the teen twice.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals originally said Hernandez Guereca’s family could sue Mesa. But the full court overturned that ruling in April.