NOGALES, Ariz. — A Border Patrol agent was acquitted Wednesday of involuntary manslaughter in the deadly shooting of a Mexican teen, court records show.
Lonnie Swartz was accused of shooting through a border fence in Nogales, Arizona, in 2012 and killing 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, who was on the Mexican side of the border. The agent fired 14 to 30 shots and 10 of those bullets hit the teen, officials said.
Swartz said he shot through the fence because he was getting attacked by rock throwers and feared for his life, the Arizona Republic reported.
In April, he was acquitted of second-degree murder, but the jury was deadlocked on voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges.
On Wednesday, a federal jury in Tucson, Arizona, found Swartz not guilty of involuntary manslaughter but they were unable to reach a verdict on a voluntary manslaughter charge.
A judge has set a status conference on the case for Dec. 11 as prosecutors decide whether Swartz could be tried again, CNN affiliate the Arizona Daily Star newspaper reported.
The teen’s family criticized the verdict and said they will keep fighting for justice.
“They are now allowing this man to get another job, get another gun and continue killing,” the teen’s grandmother Taide Elena told CNN affiliate KOLD.
It’s unclear whether Swartz, who has been on administrative leave and living in Nevada since the incident, will return to his post, KOLD reported.
Agent still facing civil lawsuit
Swartz is also facing a civil rights lawsuit. The teen’s mother, Araceli Rodríguez, is suing him for violating her son’s constitutional rights.
The agent appealed on the grounds of qualified immunity but in August a federal appeals court said the boy deserved to be constitutionally protected against Swartz’s use of deadly force, allowing the mother’s claim to proceed.
“He did not throw rocks or engage in any violence or threatening behavior against anyone or anything,” according to the court’s ruling. “He was just walking down a street in Mexico.”
Swartz also argued the Constitution doesn’t protect José, who wasn’t a US citizen and who wasn’t shot in US territory.
The court’s response: Swartz couldn’t have known whether José was an American citizen when he shot him. Also, his unreasonable use of force took place on American soil.
“Just as Mexican law controls what people do there, American law controls what people do here,” the ruling says.
Courts have faced similar decisions in cases surrounding the border.
In 2010, a 15-year-old Mexican boy, Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, was playing with friends on the cement culvert that separates Texas from Mexico. A US Border Patrol agent shot and killed Sergio.
The boy’s parents sued the agent six months later, but the court’s ruling looked a bit different.
In that case, a federal appeals court said Sergio did not get constitutional protections on the other side of the border. And because of that, it said, his family couldn’t sue the agent for violating his rights.