Border Deaths

Few undocumented immigrants shot by U.S. Border Patrol agents survive, and in even fewer cases is an agent found to have used excessive force.

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Why this matters: A man interviewed by inewsource in 2012 is one of the rare undocumented immigrants to win damages against a Border Patrol agent for excessive force.[/box][/one_half]

Those odds didn’t stop one of the survivors, Jesus Castro Romo, from suing the federal government after he was shot by an agent during a routine stop in Arizona.

In 2012, inewsource interviewed Castro as part of its Deadly Patrols series, an investigation of agent-involved deaths along the border. Castro was living in Nogalas, Mexico, with his wife and youngest son when he began his battle against the Border Patrol.

He told inewsource people “call me the soap opera guy,” because his injuries left him with few choices but to watch TV in bed. Castro suffers from unstable ligaments in his spine, along with remaining bone and shrapnel fragments. A doctor testified in the case that these injuries make Castro’s constant pain worse when he walks, “exerts himself” or even stays in one position for a long time.

U.S. District Judge James Soto in Tucson, Arizona, this month awarded Castro almost $500,000 in damages for his medical expenses and lost wages. The judge first set the damages at about $553,000, but he reduced them after concluding Castro was 10 percent responsible because he was crossing into the United States illegally.

Abel Canales, the agent involved in the shooting, said Castro threatened him with a rock. Prosecutors argued that Canales used his gun out of fear for his life, which would be a justified use of force.

The judge didn’t buy that argument. He ruled that even if Castro did have a rock, it didn’t justify lethal force.

“Put more bluntly, a rock is not as deadly an object as a gun and requires a greater degree of certainty that the object will be used than the threat or perceived threat of a gun,” Soto wrote in the Feb 6 order.

William Risner, Castro’s lawyer, praised Soto’s understanding of the law and of the people involved.

“He understands the border, he understands the people and that helped him a lot,” Risner said. “Our story was truthful and the United States defense was not truthful.”

The judge also took issue with Canales’ credibility. The agent pleaded guilty in a separate case to accepting a bribe to allow smugglers through a Border Patrol checkpoint.

His testimony also changed before the trial, the judge found, despite Canales’ having “every opportunity to describe in detail the encounter with Castro — with counsel present — the day after the shooting occurred.”

In his interview with inewsource three years ago, Castro said he had tried to run back to Mexico when Border Patrol agents stopped him and a group of immigrants crossing the border illegally in 2010. Canales caught up to him on horseback and began taking him back towards the group.

According to Castro, the agent hit him with the reins of his horse.

“It was like when bees are all over you and you got them crazy. This is how he was hitting me,” Castro said.

He said he crouched to get away from the reins and that’s when Canales shot him. Risner, Castro’s lawyer, thinks the shooting might have even been accidental because the agent only shot once.

“They’re trained to fire multiple shots,” Risner said. When Canales was first interviewed, including by the FBI, he was asked why he only fired once. Risner believes that after Canales accidentally fired, he spotted another witness so he didn’t fire again and instead claimed the first shot was in self-defense.

The injury prevented Castro, who still lives in Nogales, from continuing his work driving a dump truck, he said. His wife, Ana Luisa Alarcon-Ramirez, became the sole breadwinner for them and their two children.

“He was in charge of everything and, well, now there is nothing,” she told inewsource in 2012. “I work, sell cakes, sell clothes in the flea market, clean houses, anything. I move around, bring things, take things up, get things down, everything, everything, everything.”

According to Risner, Castro needs surgery, which he can only afford when he receives the money from the U.S. government for the damages.

In his findings, the judge stated Castro will need medications for the rest of his life, “to control his pain symptoms, which will like never completely abate.”

Leonardo Castañeda was a reporter and economic analyst for inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email leocastaneda [at] inewsource [dot] org.

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