18 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the event type is “Vehicle Pursuit”

Examples of abuses or other behaviors indicating need for reform at U.S. border and migration institutions

July 27, 2022

A letter from the ACLU of New Mexico and ACLU of Texas called for an investigation of a July 27 vehicle crash in Santa Teresa, New Mexico that killed two Mexican citizens and injured nine others. While Border Patrol was pursuing the vehicle before it crashed in the pre-dawn hours of the 27th, the agency reported that it had discontinued its chase, and that the driver lost control, flipping the vehicle.

Two Mexican citizen brothers, who were allegedly seeking to smuggle eleven migrants, face federal and state charges as a result of the incident; one said that the criminal organization that hired him had ordered him “not to stop if law enforcement attempted to pull him over.”

Border Patrol agents stand accused of a pattern of engaging in dangerous vehicle pursuits, at times in populated areas, with increasingly frequent fatalities. “There have already been 17 deaths this year due to Border Patrol vehicle pursuits, while there were 23 last year – an 11-fold increase since 2019,” the ACLU letter noted, urging CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus not to allow agents to employ Title 42 to expel any of the “victim-witnesses.”

— Rebecca Sheff, Shaw Drake, “Border Patrol’s Deadly Vehicle Pursuit on July 27, 2022 in Santa Teresa, NM” (New Mexico, Texas, ACLU of New Mexico, ACLU of Texas, July 27, 2022) https://www.aclu-nm.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/2022.07.27_aclu_letter_to_cbp_re_santa_teresa_vehicle_pursuit.pdf.

— Cindy Ramirez, “ACLU again questions Border Patrol pursuits, investigations after rollover leaves 2 dead” (El Paso: El Paso Matters, July 29, 2022) https://elpasomatters.org/2022/07/29/two-dead-in-santa-teresa-new-mexico-rollover-crash-after-border-patrol-pursuit/.

— Julian Resendiz, “Cartel to driver in fatal crash: Don’t stop for Border Patrol” (El Paso: Border Report, August 2, 2022) https://www.borderreport.com/immigration/border-crime/cartel-to-driver-in-fatal-crash-dont-stop-for-border-patrol/.

— “Two die in vehicle accident transporting undocumented migrants in New Mexico” (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, August 6, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/two-die-vehicle-accident-transporting-undocumented-migrants-new.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under ICE-HSI Investigation, Under Local Police investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification:

July 26, 2022

A Border Patrol vehicle pursuit ended in a crash, with no fatalities, in Chula Vista, southeast of San Diego, when agents deployed a spike strip, popping a vehicle’s tires and causing its driver to veer off the road.

“The driver and front passenger were both male U.S. citizens under 18 years old,” the *San Diego Union-Tribune* reported. “The other five occupants, four men and one woman, were adult Mexican citizens who were in the U.S. illegally, authorities said.”

— Angelina Hicks, “Border Patrol pursuit of suspected human smugglers ends in crash in Chula Vista” (San Diego: San Diego Union-Tribune, July 27, 2022) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/story/2022-07-27/border-patrol-pursuit-of-suspected-human-smugglers-ends-in-crash-in-chula-vista.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Single Adult

June 30, 2022

A Border Patrol-involved vehicle pursuit on Interstate Highway 35, reaching speeds of 90-100 miles per hour, ended in a crash that killed four of seven migrants aboard a Jeep Wrangler in Encinal, Texas (original link). The deceased were male citizens of Mexico and Guatemala.

“This incident is being investigated by the Texas Department of Public Safety and reviewed by CBP’s OPR [Office of Professional Responsibility],” CBP reported. “The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General was notified of the incident.”

— U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “Failure to yield leads to fatal crash off Interstate Highway 35 in Encinal, Texas” (Washington: CBP, July 5, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/failure-yield-leads-fatal-crash-interstate-highway-35-encinal.

Sector(s): Laredo

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Mexico, Single Adult

June 24, 2022

A high-speed vehicle pursuit of a suspected migrant smuggler near Otay Mesa, east of San Diego, California, ended with two men suffering “major injuries” and a Border Patrol agent suffering minor injuries, after both vehicles went off the roadway and crashed into an embankment.

— Doug Aguillard, “Border Patrol Agent & Two Immigrants Injured in Pursuit Crash” (United States: OnScene.tv, June 24, 2022) https://onscene.tv/border-patrol-agent-two-immigrants-injured-in-pursuit-crash-san-diego/.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

April 23, 2022

A Border Patrol pursuit, which bystanders estimated to be in excess of 100 miles per hour, ended in the death of a driver in El Cajon, California, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The driver being pursued “lost control, flew off the freeway and went down an embankment, crashing into a tree.” The California Highway Patrol (CHP) “said it was still working to determine why the driver was being pursued. A Border Patrol spokesperson deferred all questions to CHP.”

— Kristina Davis, Natallie Rocha, “Driver dies in crash during Border Patrol pursuit” (San Diego: San Diego Union-Tribune, April 23, 2022) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/story/2022-04-23/border-patrol-pursuit.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Under Local Police investigation, Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

April 15, 2022

A Border Patrol vehicle pursuit about seven miles east of Edinburg, Texas, reached speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. The vehicle being pursued, a 2020 GMC Sierra with eight people on board, six of them undocumented, lost control and rolled over. The driver and a passenger died on the scene, while the remaining passengers were “transported by air and ground ambulances to the hospital for injuries that ranged from minor to severe,” according to the Rio Grande Valley Monitor.

— Mark Reagan, “Border Patrol chase ending in double fatality reached speeds of 100 mph” (McAllen: The Monitor, April 18, 2022) https://myrgv.com/local-news/2022/04/18/border-patrol-chase-ending-in-double-fatality-reached-speeds-of-100-mph/.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

December 3, 2021

Agents in two Border Patrol vehicles pursued a Ford F-150 pickup truck they suspected of carrying undocumented migrants near Encino, Texas, about 51 miles north of the border. The truck refused to pull over.

Agents alerted Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS, highway police). A DPS officer, accompanied by two Border Patrol agents, deployed a vehicle immobilization device. The driver sought to avoid it but struck solar panels near the roadside and rolled over.

“An occupant of the F-150, a male citizen of Mexico, was ejected from the vehicle when it rolled over,” CBP reported (original link). The man was pronounced dead at the scene.

As of December 6, 2021, the incident was being investigated by the Texas DPS and reviewed by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility and the Starr County, Texas Justice of the Peace. The DHS Office of Inspector-General was also notified.

— “CBP statement on death of Mexican man after he was ejected from a vehicle following failure to yield near La Gloria, Texas” (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, December 6, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-death-mexican-man-after-he-was-ejected-vehicle.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under Local Police investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

September 18, 2021

Border Patrol agents in two vehicles pursued an Acura SUV that circumvented the Border Patrol tactical checkpoint in Deming, New Mexico. The driver “lost control and crashed,” a CBP release reported (original link). “Multiple occupants were ejected from the vehicle, which caught on fire.”

A female citizen of Ecuador was pronounced dead at the scene. At least seven more individuals were hospitalized. One, a male citizen of Brazil, “succumbed to his injuries on September 27, 2021.”

“This incident is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the New Mexico State Police and reviewed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility and the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator,” CBP reported. “The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General was also notified of the incident.”

— “Multiple migrants airlifted to hospital, one deceased” (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, September 21, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/multiple-migrants-airlifted-hospital-one-deceased.

— Bill Armendariz, “1 dead, 9 injured in rollover near Luna County Border Patrol checkpoint” (Deming: Deming Headlight, September 19, 2021) https://www.demingheadlight.com/story/news/2021/09/19/1-dead-9-injured-rollover-near-luna-county-border-patrol-checkpoint/8413349002/.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under Local Police investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Brazil, Ecuador, Female, Single Adult

August 7, 2021

For nearly an hour, Border Patrol vehicles, aided by CBP and National Guard helicopter surveillance, pursued a jeep that circumvented a checkpoint near Tucson.

A CBP release described how this pursuit ended in a fatal crash on a major interstate highway (original link).

With the assistance of air support, BPAs [Border Patrol agents] located the vehicle on I-10. At approximately 7:57 PM, a BPA attempted to stop the Jeep Liberty by deploying a Vehicle Immobilization Device (VID) on I-10, approximately 39 miles northwest of Tucson near Picacho Peak. The driver of the Jeep Liberty lost control, crossed the median and struck a tractor trailer in the eastbound lanes of travel. As a result of the impact, the vehicle traveled back into the median and caught fire. BPAs immediately requested emergency medical services (EMS), pulled several occupants from the vehicle, and rendered aid. There was a total of eleven occupants in the vehicle, to include two unidentified individuals who were declared deceased on the scene.

A third passenger in the jeep crash died after being transported to a hospital.

“This incident is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and reviewed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility,” read CBP’s release. “The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General was notified of the incident.”

It was the second Border Patrol pursuit ending in a fatal crash in four days. Two people died in a crash following an August 3, 2021 chase in New Mexico.

— “CBP Statement – Three fatalities in Arizona motor vehicle accident” (Washington: CBP, August 9, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-three-fatalities-arizona-motor-vehicle-accident.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Single Adult

August 3, 2021

An August 25 letter to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the ACLU of Texas described an August 3 Border Patrol vehicle pursuit that led to two fatalities in New Mexico.

Early in the morning of August 3, 2021, a Border Patrol agent assigned to the Las Cruces, New Mexico, U.S. Border Patrol Station was reportedly patrolling New Mexico State Road 185 approximately six miles south of the Border Patrol checkpoint, which is located approximately 69 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. According to CBP, the agent witnessed a northbound vehicle pull to the side of the road and then proceed north. The Border Patrol agent reportedly followed the vehicle without activating his emergency equipment.

The vehicle reportedly evaded the Border Patrol checkpoint by driving onto the southbound lanes of New Mexico State Road 185 and then continued north, at which time the Border Patrol agent activated his emergency equipment and attempted to stop the vehicle. Another Border Patrol unit also reportedly pursued the vehicle.

Approximately three miles north of the Border Patrol checkpoint, the vehicle crashed. Several occupants were ejected from the vehicle. The agency’s statement simply claims “the driver lost control and crashed,” but does not indicate the location or conduct of Border Patrol agents’ vehicles immediately preceding the crash.

A CBP release, issued two weeks later, reported that one passenger aboard the vehicle, a male citizen of Ecuador, died (original link). The vehicle’s driver, a male U.S. citizen, died of his injuries 12 days after the crash. Eight other passengers were hospitalized.

“This incident is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the New Mexico State Police, and reviewed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility and the El Paso County Office of the Medical Examiner,” CBP’s release continued. “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General was also notified.”

It was the first of two Border Patrol pursuits ending in fatal crashes in four days. Three people died in a crash following an August 7, 2021 chase in Arizona.

This incident would be featured in a January 10, 2022 front-page New York Times story about Border Patrol vehicle pursuit tactics. The Times account included the role of Border Patrol’s secretive Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs), which advocates accuse of having helped to frustrate investigations into abuses committed by agents:

Body camera footage from a state police officer captured one of the Border Patrol agents saying: “Our critical incident team is coming out. They’ll do all the crime scene stuff—well, not crime scene, but critical incident scene.” The agent said that he and his colleague would give statements to the team, which it would share with the police.

On June 7, 2022, the ACLU of Texas and ACLU of New Mexico confirmed that Border Patrol Critical Incident Team personnel were at the scene of the crash within about an hour. Through state-level public records requests, the ACLU obtained the first-ever publicly available copy of a BPCIT incident report. The 162-page document “raises more questions than it answers,” the organization observed (original link). It pointed out several inconsistencies in the BPCIT report’s findings, including its descriptions of the distance at which the Border Patrol vehicle was following, when it activated its lights and sirens, whether “spike strips” were used to disable the pursued vehicle, and even the number of miles over which the chase took place.

The quality of the incident report, the ACLU offices concluded, raises concerns about CBP’s plan to terminate the BPCITs by absorbing their personnel into CBP’s Office of Public Responsibility (OPR) by the end of September 2022. “While OPR is tasked with conducting independent and impartial investigations, confidence in their results is wholly undermined by the involvement of Border Patrol’s CITs as investigators.”

Times reporter Eileen Sullivan identified the vehicle’s driver: 25-year-old Erik A. Molix, who was transporting nine undocumented migrants in a sport utility vehicle. Agents chased him at speeds reaching 73 miles per hour. A Border Patrol vehicle clipped Molix’s SUV, sending it tumbling off the road. Molix’s mother, a 5th-grade teacher in El Paso, found out about her son’s death from a CBP news release. While he may have been doing something illegal, she told the Times, “That doesn’t mean you have to die for it.”

The ACLU’s August 2021 letter called on CBP to carry out “robust and independent investigations” into the pursuit incident, and that the agency publicly release its written vehicle pursuit policy and review whether Border Patrol agents deviated from it during the August 3 chase.

CBP made its vehicle pursuit policy public, in redacted form, for the first time in November 2021 (original link). On May 24, 2022, the Associated Press reported that CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus “developing a new policy for vehicle pursuits with an eye toward increasing safety.”

— Rebecca Sheff, Shaw Drake, “CBP’s Vehicle Pursuit Policy and Border Patrol’s Deadly Pursuit of a Vehicle on August 3, 2021 near Las Cruces, New Mexico” (New Mexico and Texas: ACLU of New Mexico, ACLU of Texas, August 25, 2021) https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/aclu_letter_to_cbp_re_las_cruces_vehicle_pursuit.pdf.

— “Smuggler loses control of vehicle while evading checkpoint, causing a death and injuries to ejected passengers” (Las Cruces: CBP, August 17, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/smuggler-loses-control-vehicle-while-evading-checkpoint-causing.

— Eileen Sullivan, “A Rise in Deadly Border Patrol Chases Renews Concerns About Accountability” (New York: The New York Times, January 9, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/09/us/politics/border-patrol-migrant-deaths.html.

Emergency Driving Including Vehicular Pursuits by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Personnel (Washington: CBP, January 16, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2021-Nov/CBP-directive-emergency-driving-Including-vehicular-pursuits-us-cbp-personnel-redacted.pdf.

— Elliot Spagat, “Border agency plans vehicle pursuit policy to raise safety” (Donna: Associated Press, May 24, 2022) https://apnews.com/article/politics-us-customs-and-border-protection-texas-law-enforcement-agencies-694e39abaca42abbee4f1093484b9b76.

— Shaw Drake, Rebecca Sheff, “Border Patrol is Investigating Itself Following Deaths, Report Reveals” (Texas and New Mexico, ACLU of Texas and ACLU of New Mexico, June 7, 2022) https://www.aclu.org/news/immigrants-rights/border-patrol-is-investigating-itself-following-deaths-report-reveals.

Report as prepared by EPT CIT including all facts pertaining to the case listed above (El Paso: U.S. Border Patrol, 2021) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22016802-us_cbp_final_report_redacted.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Critical Incident Teams

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Ecuador, Single Adult, U.S. Citizen or Resident

June 23, 2021

A Border Patrol agent driving a marked vehicle gave chase to a pickup truck spotted loading people near the Rio Grande in Laredo, Texas. A Border Patrol statement notes that the agent had lost track of the truck, which later collided into another vehicle (original link):

The pickup immediately left the area at a high rate of speed, causing several people to fall from the vehicle. The BPA radioed to additional BPAs in the area as he attempted to catch up with the white pickup truck.  The BPA lost sight of the vehicle and radioed to other agents notifying them that he could not locate the vehicle.

The pickup collided into a SUV at the intersection of Main Avenue and Jefferson Street, approximately 16 blocks northwest of the BPA’s location. Border Patrol EMTs, Laredo Fire Department Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and Laredo Police Department (LPD) responded to the scene of the collision. No Border Patrol units were pursuing the white pickup truck at the time of the crash. The first Border Patrol unit arrived on the scene within a minute and came from the opposite direction without its lights and sirens activated.

The accident killed three people aboard the pickup truck and injured eight. Border Patrol noted, “This incident is being reviewed by the Webb County Medical Examiner’s Office and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility and is being investigated by the Laredo Police Department.”

— “Correction on June 23 Vehicle Accident in Laredo, Texas” (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, June 26, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/correction-june-23-vehicle-accident-laredo-texas.

Sector(s): Laredo

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Single Adult

June 17, 2021

A CBP release described a Border Patrol chase that ended with a fatal vehicle crash, after an agent deployed a vehicle immobilization device across an Arizona highway (original link).

On June 17, 2021, a Border Patrol Agent (BPA) observed two suspected undocumented migrants getting into a vehicle along Arizona State Route 85 (SR 85), approximately one and a half miles north of the Lukeville, AZ Port of Entry. Approximately 20 miles north of where the suspected undocumented migrants entered the vehicle, another BPA waiting on SR 85, activated his emergency lights and sirens and attempted to stop the vehicle. The vehicle did not stop and continued for approximately one mile, where another BPA deployed a vehicle immobilization device (VID) across the roadway. The driver of the suspected smuggling vehicle attempted to avoid running over the VID and subsequently lost control and crashed.

One of the two undocumented migrants in the vehicle, a male citizen of Mexico, was in critical condition and was transported to the Abrazo West Medical Center in Goodyear, AZ where he ultimately succumbed to his injuries on June 19, 2021.

This incident is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and reviewed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility. The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General was also notified of the incident.

— “Failure to Yield Results in Death” (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, June 21, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/failure-yield-results-death-0.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

June 10, 2021

Border Patrol agents pursued, for over 34 miles near Deming, New Mexico, two vehicles that failed to pull over. “At that point,” a CBP release reported (original link),

four undocumented migrants jumped from one of the moving vehicles on New Mexico State Road 146. While some BPAs [Border Patrol agents] stopped to render assistance, others continued to pursue the two vehicles which eventually stopped. Both drivers and their passengers were taken into custody by BPAs.

One of the four undocumented migrants who jumped from the moving vehicle, a female citizen of Ecuador, suffered head injuries and was eventually transferred to University Medical Center in El Paso, TX, where she was declared deceased by medical personnel on June 13, 2021.

— “U.S. Border Patrol Failure To Yield Incident” (Deming: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, June 15, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/us-border-patrol-failure-yield-incident-0.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Ecuador, Female, Single Adult

May 14, 2021

Three Border Patrol agents shot 26-year-old San Diego resident Silvestre Vargas Estrada through the windshield of his car in Campo, California. Vargas Estrada was killed. Two passengers, believed to be Mexican men who had entered the country illegally, were not injured.

A release from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department reported:

Just before 10:30 p.m. on May 14, 2021, agents with the U.S. Border Patrol were involved in a pursuit with a vehicle containing three adult males. The pursuit ended in a gas station parking lot at the intersection of State Route 94 and Buckman Springs Road in Campo. A confrontation ensued, resulting in three agents discharging their firearms. The driver of the vehicle was struck by gunfire. The man was transported by ambulance to a local area hospital. Unfortunately, he was pronounced deceased shortly after arriving at the hospital (original link).

The Sheriff’s Department homicide unit was leading the investigation, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on May 18, 2021. “The FBI, Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility also responded to the scene and will review the investigation.”

It was the second Border Patrol-involved fatal shooting in the agency’s San Diego sector in six months. An agent shot and killed David Angel Villalobos-Baldovinos following a reported altercation on October 23, 2020.

— Thomas Seiver, “U.S. Border Patrol Agents Involved Shooting – Update 1” (San Diego: San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, May 18, 2021) https://www.sdsheriff.gov/Home/Components/News/News/384/16.

— Alex Riggins, “Authorities ID San Diego man shot, killed by Border Patrol agents” (San Diego, San Diego Union-Tribune, May 18, 2021) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/story/2021-05-18/authorities-id-san-diego-man-shot-killed-by-border-patrol-agents.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force, Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Single Adult, U.S. Citizen or Resident

July 26, 2020

CBP reported that Border Patrol agents “observed a suspicious vehicle” near Brackettville, Texas and attempted a vehicle stop (original link). “The driver then attempted to elude agents by fleeing at a high rate of speed,” after which “agents ultimately lost sight of the vehicle,” locating it shortly afterward, rolled over. “The motor vehicle accident resulted in fatalities and serious injuries. The driver of the vehicle fled the scene, but was later apprehended.”

Two people aboard the vehicle died. The Kinney County, Texas Sheriff’s Office posted to Facebook that they “are believed to be illegal alien” (original link).

Texas’s Department of Public Security was investigating, and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility had the incident “under review.”

—”CBP Statement On Accident With Fatalities” (Del Rio, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, July 26, 2020) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-accident-fatalities.

Facebook post (Kinney County, TX: Kinney County Sheriff’s Office, July 26, 2020) https://www.facebook.com/KinneyCountySheriffsOffice/posts/738457053578706.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Single Adult

July 1, 2020

A Border Patrol agent “inadvertently” ran over a 29-year-old Mexican man while pursuing him and two other migrants in a vehicle near El Paso’s Ysleta Port of Entry, El Paso Matters reported. “The man sustained non-life-threatening injuries to his leg and torso. He was treated and medically cleared July 3 and returned to Mexico,” Border Patrol spokesman George Gomez said.

“We are disturbed about how Border Patrol is handling this situation,” Astrid Dominguez of the ACLU’s Border Rights Center told El Paso Matters. “The agency claims there is an ongoing investigation but the victim has already been deported. Anytime that a law enforcement agency hurts an individual, they must report it to the public—not wait until someone inquires about it.”

— René Kladzyk, “El Paso Border Patrol agent runs over migrant with vehicle” (El Paso: El Paso Matters, July 9, 2020) https://elpasomatters.org/2020/07/09/el-paso-border-patrol-agent-runs-over-migrant-with-vehicle/.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Pedestrian Strike, Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

June 25, 2020

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.[20] Other witnesses also recount that Border Patrol vehicles were speeding in pursuit when the crash occurred.[21]

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.[22]

…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.[32]

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.[3] 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.[4] The analysis also found that out of over 500 Border Patrol vehicle pursuits, one in three ended in a crash.[5] Notably, since President Donald Trump assumed office, the number of people injured in Border Patrol pursuit crashes has increased by 42 percent.[6]

…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.[35] DOJ guidelines state that, “[f]or anyone other than a violent felon, the balance weighs against the high-speed chase.”[36]

…CBP has refused to publicly share its written vehicle pursuit policy [38] despite the DOJ Pursuit Management Task Force’s guidance that, “law enforcement agencies compile and disseminate appropriate pursuit data for their own agencies.”[39] Further, CBP has declined requests for information about their policy from Senator Dianne Feinstein.[40] 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:

[20], [21]: 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/.
[22]: 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/.
[32]: 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/.
[4], [5]: 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/.
[35], [36]: 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.
[39]: Bayless et al.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Single Adult, U.S. Citizen or Resident

January 29, 2020

The Intercept reported:

On January 29, an Ecuadorian man was killed in a car crash near downtown El Paso, Texas, only yards from the U.S.-Mexico border. An Ecuadorian woman was gravely hurt and weeks later is just emerging from a coma. She’s missing part of her skull and half of her body appears to be paralyzed. Stuck in a hospital thousands of miles from her kin, she has had few visitors, but one has been a Border Patrol agent who feels grief-stricken by the accident and believes the Border Patrol played a major role in causing it. The agent recently had an emotional meeting with a family member of the severely injured woman and offered to testify if the family brings a lawsuit.

Police reports say the crash was caused by a drunk driver who picked up the Ecuadorians after they crossed into the U.S. illegally. The driver is said to have been a smuggler who was speeding to evade the Border Patrol, and crashed because he was driving too fast. But the agent says that the chase was improper. It occurred near downtown El Paso on West Paisano Drive, on a section of road so prone to crashes that local law enforcement officers call it a ‘deadly curve.’

…police reports and statements, as well as the Border Patrol’s own record of vehicle pursuits in the area, raise questions about the agency’s denial of a chase. An El Paso Police Department press release states that the driver was ‘traveling at a high rate of speed as Border Patrol agents drove towards the vehicle.’

…in the recent crash, Montañez said, the policy was ignored. ‘The supervisor should have ordered a stop to the pursuit,’ she said. ‘When you back off from your emergency lights, the driver tends to think, ‘Oh, he’s letting me go,’ and slows down. Then the agent follows him normally instead of being on a chase.’ On January 29, that back-off order didn’t come, she said. ‘Maybe the supervisor was busy and not listening to the radio. I don’t know what happened.'”

Another chase near downtown El Paso would result in seven fatalities on June 25, 2020.

— Debbie Nathan, “Border Patrol Agent Speaks out About a High-speed Chase That Ended in an Immigrant’s Death,” (The Intercept, February 28, 2020) https://theintercept.com/2020/02/28/border-patrol-el-paso-texas-car-chase/.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Ecuador, Single Adult