(HRW) – Parents of a 15-year-old Mexican boy, killed seven years ago by a US Border Patrol agent who shot across the border into Mexico, are still waiting to find out whether they are entitled to a day in court.
According to the plaintiffs, in 2010, Sergio Adrian Hernandez-Geureca was playing a game with friends in Juarez, Mexico, along the culvert where the Rio Grande – which marks the US-Mexico border – once flowed. A US Border Patrol agent approached. After seeing the agent detain one of his friends, Sergio sought shelter behind a pillar on the Mexican side of the border. The agent claimed he was under attack from rock-throwing children, but cell phone video footage seems to show that Sergio and his friends were only running back and forth between the fence on the US side and Mexico. The agent, standing on US soil, drew his gun and shot Sergio at least twice, killing him.
On Monday, the US Supreme Court vacated an Appeals Court judgment dismissing the family’s lawsuit and remanded it to that court for further proceedings. While the agent who killed Hernandez-Geureca fired from the US side of the border, the government essentially contends that the family has no possible legal recourse against the government, because their son was a Mexican national who was standing on the Mexican side of the border when he died. The high court, which called the killing a “tragic cross-border incident,” may yet be called upon to issue a definitive ruling on whether the case can go forward.
Sergio’s parents sued to hold the agent who killed him accountable.
Sadly, Sergio’s story is not unique. US Customs and Border Protection has long been criticized for its unreasonable use of deadly force and deficient ensuing investigations. Border Patrol agents have reportedly been responsible 46 fatalities since Sergio’s death. In Rodriguez v. Swartz, the mother of a 16-year-old boy killed by a Border Patrol agent in Nogales, Mexico sued in a similar effort to secure accountability for her son’s death. Human Rights Watch filed an amicus brief in that case, emphasizing that international human rights standards require law enforcement officers to use force only when it is necessary and proportionate. The case is now on appeal before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
When Border Patrol agents kill or injure unarmed people, clearly using unnecessary and disproportionate force, US law should not create loopholes large enough to allow them to escape accountability.
This report prepared by Lynn Stopher for Human Rights Watch.