NOT GUILTY: Border Patrol Agent Accused of Shooting Mexican Teen
It was an emotional ending for both sides of the divide, as U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz walked out of an Arizona courtroom on Wednesday a “free-man.”
The circumstances surrounding the “not guilty” verdict involved the tragic death of 17-year old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, who was fatally shot as he threw rocks through a border fence from the Mexican side of the divide.
Rodriguez was involved in a drug smuggling operation in 2012, where he assisted drug dealers attempting to get back into Mexico by pelting Swartz and other border agents with rocks as they were attempting to arrest the drug dealers.
Swartz had originally been charged with second-degree murder, however, was found not guilty. Not satisfied with the verdict, prosecutors tried for an “involuntary manslaughter” conviction which also failed.
The Border Patrol agent admits shooting (in self-defense) through the fence after being hit countless times with rocks by the young Mexican thugs.
A mistrial was declared by the judge on Monday, after the jury acquitted Swartz on the “second-degree murder” charge, however hopelessly deadlocked on the lesser charge of “involuntary manslaughter.”
Swartz’s attorney Sean Chapman wrote in an email to The Associated Press, “My client is very relieved. He has had to live with the burden of this case hanging over his head for years. He is glad that it is finally over.”
Adding, “We fully respect the jury’s decision, and we thank every member of the jury for the time and attention given to this trial,” prosecutor Elizabeth Strange said in a statement. “This was a difficult case, and I commend the trial team and law enforcement officers who assisted in the prosecution.”
During the trial, prosecutors acknowledged that Rodriguez and other gang members were throwing rocks at Border Patrol agents, perhaps as a diversionary tactic to distract agents away from the two Mexican drug smugglers attempting to get back into Mexico to avoid arrest.
In August a federal court ruled that Border Patrol agents do not have constitutional immunity from prosecution, regarding cross-border shooting resulting in injury or death.
The jury deliberated almost 18-hours over a 5-day period, in what has become the 1st such case involving a Border Patrol agent using deadly force (after being attacked), across the border.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Heath Kleindienst attempted to portray Swartz during his closing arguments to the jury, as some kind of out of control individual, stating that the border agent “was fed up with being rocked” after being targeted in at least six other attacks.
Kleindienst continued, “It was not about eliminating a threat, because there was no threat. It was about eliminating a human being.”
Defense attorney Sean Chapman responded there was “not a scintilla of evidence” that Swartz was angry or fed up.
Adding the simple reason why Swartz fired was that they were under siege, and he was attempting to protect himself and his fellow agents during a drug operation.
“From his first day in the Border Patrol, it had been ingrained in him that rocks were dangerous,” Chapman said.