A pickup truck crashed near downtown El Paso, following a high-speed chase involving Border Patrol. Of ten people aboard the truck, seven died. Four of them, including the truck’s 18-year-old driver, were El Paso residents.
“It is the second fatal crash involving a vehicle fleeing Border Patrol on the same stretch of roadway this year,” reported the El Paso Times. The first took place on January 29, 2020.
Border Patrol officials said that agents terminated the pursuit “after it reached dangerously high speeds heading into Downtown El Paso.” Other eyewitness accounts contradicted this. In a July 20, 2020 complaint about the incident, the ACLU noted:
Wilmer Gomez of Guatemala was one of three survivors in the vehicle and says he remembers being chased by approximately seven Border Patrol vehicles. Other witnesses also recount that Border Patrol vehicles were speeding in pursuit when the crash occurred.
Again, CBP denied engaging in a chase at the time of either two El Paso crashes, despite these witness accounts and internal Border Patrol records that suggest that Border Patrol vehicles were speeding in pursuit at the time of both crashes.
…CBP OPR is also reviewing the incident; however, CBP OPR is limited to reviewing agent conduct and are unlikely to take on the systemic issue implicated here.
An eyewitness who said he saw Border Patrol closely pursuing the vehicle when it crashed arrived at the scene with coworkers “within 20 seconds of the accident,” El Paso Matters reported. That account continued:
He observed a Border Patrol agent questioning one of the crash survivors about his immigration status while the survivor was badly injured and trapped in the vehicle. “He was screaming for help. He was telling the Border Patrol agent not to let him die and to give him help. All of the Border Patrol agents were trying to do as much as they (could). But one of them asked him, ‘Are you a U.S. citizen? Do you have papers?’”
The ACLU document made general observations about CBP’s opaque vehicle pursuit policy:
Border Patrol refuses to release their vehicle pursuit policy, thereby making it impossible to review its compliance with relevant guidelines, legal protections, or police best practices. The high number of injuries and deaths resulting from Border Patrol’s actions suggest either that the policy fails to protect the safety and lives of pursuit subjects or that agents are consistently acting outside the bounds of agency policy. Either way, these issues warrant scrupulous review and investigation by the Inspector General.
Border Patrol agents often engage in high-speed vehicle chases. One study found that from 2015 to 2018 alone, at least 250 people were injured and 22 were killed in a vehicle crash due to such a pursuit. The analysis also found that out of over 500 Border Patrol vehicle pursuits, one in three ended in a crash. Notably, since President Donald Trump assumed office, the number of people injured in Border Patrol pursuit crashes has increased by 42 percent.
…Border Patrol’s actions do not appear to adhere to DOJ guidelines, which suggest that law enforcement agents should balance the danger to the public of the chase itself against the danger to the public of the offender remaining at large when evaluating whether or not to pursue a vehicle. DOJ guidelines state that, “[f]or anyone other than a violent felon, the balance weighs against the high-speed chase.”
…CBP has refused to publicly share its written vehicle pursuit policy  despite the DOJ Pursuit Management Task Force’s guidance that, “law enforcement agencies compile and disseminate appropriate pursuit data for their own agencies.” Further, CBP has declined requests for information about their policy from Senator Dianne Feinstein. This lack of accountability is highly alarming, especially given the tragic number of injuries and lives lost.
Hours after the June 25 crash, an internal memo from Border Patrol’s El Paso station ordered an end to vehicle pursuits in this area of downtown El Paso, El Paso Matters reported.
— Daniel Borunda, “7 die, 3 hurt in car crash fleeing U.S. Border Patrol in Texas” (El Paso: El Paso Times / USA Today, June 25, 2020) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2020/06/25/seven-die-three-hurt-in-downtown-el-paso-crash-during-border-patrol-chase/3260583001/.
— René Kladzyk, “Witnesses say Border Patrol chased car moments before it crashed, killing 7” (El Paso: El Paso Matters, July 1, 2020) https://elpasomatters.org/2020/07/01/witnesses-say-border-patrol-chased-car-moments-before-it-crashed-killing-7/.
— Shaw Drake, “Re: U.S. Border Patrol’s Vehicle Pursuit Policy and the Deadly Pursuit and Crash on June 25, 2020 in El Paso, TX” (El Paso: ACLU Border Rights, July 20, 2020): 203 https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/2021_03_03_aclu_complaint_appendix.pdf.
Footnotes from above:
, : René Kladzyk, “Witnesses say Border Patrol chased car moments before it crashed, killing 7,” El Paso Matters, July 1, 2020, available at https://elpasomatters.org/2020/07/01/witnesses-say-border-patrol-chased-car- moments-before-it-crashed-killing-7/.
: Debbie Nathan, “Border Patrol Agent Speaks out about a High-Speed Chase That Ended in a Immigrant’s Death,” The Intercept, February 28, 2020, available at https://theintercept.com/2020/02/28/border-patrol-el-paso- texas-car-chase/.
: Aaron Martinez, “El Paso police reveal details in fatal Downtown crash; group seeks Border Patrol inquiry,”
El Paso Times, June 26, 2020, available at https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/crime/2020/06/26/el-paso-fatal- car-crash-accident-border-patrol-investigation/3265472001/.
, : Brittany Mejia, Kavitha Surana and James Queally, “Trapped in a Deadly Chase,” ProPublica, April 4, 2019, available at https://features.propublica.org/border-crashes/death-injuries-in-high-speed-border-patrol-chases/.
, : See Kenneth L. Bayless, Robert Osborne and The Aerospace Corporation, “Pursuit Management Task Force Report,” National Institute of Justice, September 1998, available at https://www.justnet.org/pdf/Pursuit-Management-Task-Force-Report.pdf.
: Bayless et al.