The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that a US border agent acquitted of murder in the shooting death of a Mexican teenager is not immune from civil claims for damages by the boy’s mother.
In October 2012 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was shot about 10 times in the back [Politico report] by Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz, who fired between 14 and 30 shots through a border fence. Swartz claims that he fired in self-defense in response to a group of teenagers throwing rocks. A federal jury acquitted Swartz [Reuters report] of second-degree murder in April, but could not come to a decision on lesser manslaughter charges. A retrial on those charges will begin in late October.
Swartz appealed the decision of a lower court in a civil suit brought by Rodriguez, which contends that Swartz violated the Fourth Amendment.
“Based on the facts alleged in the complaint,” Judge Andrew Kleinfeld wrote in the Ninth Circuit’s opinion, “Swartz violated the Fourth Amendment. It is inconceivable that any reasonable officer could have thought that he or she could kill J.A. for no reason. Thus, Swartz lacks qualified immunity.” Additionally, Kleinfeld stated that Swartz “acted on American soil and is subject to American law.”
Deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union‘s (ACLU) [advocacy website] Immigrants’ Rights Project, Lee Gelernt, stated that the decision “could not have come at a more important time,” and that “the court made clear that the Constitution does not stop at the border.”
The Supreme Court heard arguments in a similar case last year, ultimately remanding the case [JURIST reports] to the lower court.