By: Blanche Petrich
Lonnie Ray Swartz, a Border Patrol agent in Arizona, was an Army deserter. Corpulent and red-haired, he has a criminal record (two arrest warrants from the Federal Bureau of Investigation already prescribed). He is a shooting instructor.
On October 10, 2012, while on duty on the border that divides Nogales, Arizona from Nogales, Sonora, he fired two shots from his regulation weapon at a 16-year old boy, José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, who was walking along the avenue parallel to the wall. He was absolved in two consecutive trials. He alleged self-defense. Evidence that the boy had thrown stones was never presented in the Tucson courts. He was shot in the back.
For his mother, Araceli Rodríguez, and his grandmother, Tayde Elena, the only opportunity to get justice for Toñito is that now, with this new regime, the Attorney General of the Republic takes up the case, resumes the preliminary investigation opened in 2012 (AP/PGR/SON/NOG-II/972/2012), demands Swartz’s extradition and prosecutes him in Mexican territory.
“We know that it’s very difficult to achieve,” Rodríguez recognizes, who with her mother-in-law and the defense attorney Manuel Íñiguez López traveled to Mexico to promote the case again in the Foreign Relations Ministry and in Mexico’s Senate, to report to civil organizations and to seek a hearing with Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero and, if possible, with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “But it’s the only way left to us to see that justice is done. The United States, and less now with that man (Donald) Trump in the presidency, is never going to judge one of its own. The Mexican attorney general is the only hope left.”
A pending case exists in the Supreme Court of the United States, which will soon decide if the families of those who were murdered in recent years by the Border Patrol on the Mexican side from US territory have constitutional rights to sue in US courts. That right has been denied up to now to five families. Only the family of José Antonio has received a favorable decision from the ninth district court of appeals.
The Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, which supports the motion, argues that: “if the case is successful and the families can sue, it would be a blunt way of prohibiting innocent people from being killed across the wall. If, to the contrary, they lose that right, they would be legalizing these crimes, which would give a green light to more cross-border crimes.”
The grandmother, Tayde Elena, remembers that Lopez Obrador already knows about this case. “When he went campaigning through Nogales, we handed him a folder and spoke with him very briefly. He promised to look at it.”
The mother and grandmother have engraved in their memory the humiliation they felt when José Antonio’s case reached the Tucson courts. “We attended every day of the trial. The Mexican consulate only supported us with transportation; it did not give us legal advice. We experienced many injustices. The judge did not allow the agent’s criminal record to be presented. Everyone on the jury was white was white: they saw us as weird people.”
The defense presented all kinds of forensic evidence and experts to show that the teenager, who was walking along International Street, was headed to his house three blocks away when he was killed. He received 10 shots in the back and neck, and it turned out to be physically impossible for him to throw stones over an embankment and a metal fence more than five meters high. The agents that accompanied Swartz that day stated that they never felt threatened by the boy and that “it surprised them” that the accused began shooting between the bars of the border wall.
The agent, at his turn, contradicted himself: he first stated that he was disturbed when he observed that a stone “almost hit“ one of the dogs that accompany surveillance at the border, but the police dog-handler denied it. Then he stated that he didn’t remember anything that happened in those moments, and that he had lost his memory.
The defenders of Swartz alleged that the boy was part of the Sinaloa Cartel. “They dirty his name and we were not even allowed to present our version. Toñito was a very intelligent child; he had goals in life, he studied at the open middle school because he wanted to be a soldier. He saw in that path his only opportunity of obtaining studies, which is what he wanted most,” recalls the grandmother, who is still hurt by how a local newspaper, Nuevo Día, broke the news: “They killed another indigent at the line.”
The last session of the trial, in November of last year, was quick. The judge Raner Collins admitted that he was in a hurry to return home to cook his Thanksgiving Day turkey. The jury declared Swartz innocent. “That sentence was a joke to Mexico, one more proof of how they always trample us,” Araceli assures. “We want to speak with the Mexican authorities about all this. We need them to support us in order to achieve, but not only for the family of José Antonio, but for all who, like us, are in the same situation.”
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee