An illegal immigrant shot by a Border Patrol agent in the deserts of Southern Arizona in 2010 provoked the agent, according to the U.S. Attorney.
“This was the result of poor choices he made,” Johanna Hamburger, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, said of Jesus Castro Romo, the man the agent shot.
Hamburger said Romo was uncooperative with a Border Patrol agent who apprehended him and other illegal immigrants west of Nogales. She said Romo picked up a rock and motioned as if he intended to throw it at the agent, leaving the officer no choice but to fire on Romo.
Hamburger’s statements came Monday in a civil trial in U.S. District Court in Tucson before Judge James A. Soto, in a case Romo filed against the federal government.
Romo seeks unspecified monetary damages from the government for the shooting, which greatly impaired his ability to walk because the bullet struck his spine.
In court documents, Romo’s attorney, William Risner, accused the Border Patrol agent of shooting Romo as he attempted to flee back toward Mexico.
“Our confident position is that this was not justified,” Risner said in his opening statements.
A complaint Risner filed in January 2012 says an unnamed Border Patrol agent on horseback intercepted Romo among a group of people attempting to enter the United States illegally, and that the agent, identified Monday as Abel Canales, repeatedly struck Romo over the head with a lasso after Romo had surrendered.
The documents say Romo then fled because he “could no longer take the pain from the lasso hitting his scalp … .” The agent, according to the complaint, then shot Romo, who collapsed to the desert floor.
“The agent still on his horse, again chased Mr. Castro Romo down and bumped Mr. Castro Romo with the horse. Mr. Castro Romo fell to the ground on his stomach and face down. That is when Mr. Castro Romo felt a ‘warm’ feeling on his back after hearing a single gun shot,” the complaint reads.
Hamburger said the agent shot Romo in the side and any scarring on Romo’s back was the result of surgical procedures and not a gunshot.
Risner read portions of the agent’s statements in his opening arguments where Canales said Romo twice picked up rocks with the intention of throwing them at him. But Canales also said he didn’t see if Romo was holding a rock when the agent shot him.
Risner attempted to point out inconsistencies between the statements and a later court deposition where Canales said Romo appeared poised to throw the rock.
Hamburger said Canales was justified in shooting Romo because he had a legitimate fear for his safety.
“No doubt in his mind that, if he didn’t react, either he or his horse would have been hit,” Hamburger said.
She also noted Romo had been apprehended numerous times before and was concerned he could face prison time if convicted of repeated attempts at illegal re-entry.
A videotaped deposition of a witness to the incident took up much of the day Monday. Liliana Rodriguez Gonzalez sat for the deposition in December. Risner was allowed to play the video in lieu of Gonzalez’s testimony because she can’t be located. A warrant has been issued for her arrest. She also faces deportation proceedings.
In her deposition, Gonzalez was unable to recount many details of the shooting. She told interviewers she didn’t see Canales hit Soto with a lasso or the reins from his horse, and wasn’t sure if Romo was running away or lying on the ground when Canales shot him. The trial is scheduled to run through the week.