Gallegos v. United States of America, et al., No. 5:14-cv-00136 (S.D. Tex., Amended Complaint filed June 23, 2015)
This case challenges the actions of two U.S. Border Patrol agents, who shot dead an unarmed man on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2012. Nora Lam Gallegos, on behalf of herself and her minor children, brought a lawsuit against the United States and various Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in their individual capacities for the wrongful death of her husband, Guillermo Arevalo Pedraz (“Arevalo”).
On September 3, 2012, Arevalo and his family were celebrating his birthday in a park in Mexico bordering the Rio Grande when a U.S. Border Patrol airboat pulled beside a man swimming in the river. The two agents, Matthew Lambrecht and Christopher Boatwright, were responding to a report that three people had swum over to the Texas border. Witnesses allege that the man in the river was swimming back to Mexico in order to evade capture. One of the border agents on the boat attempted to catch the swimmer using a long boat hook. A crowd gathered on the Mexican shore as onlookers shouted at the two agents to leave the man alone. Arevalo ran toward the crowd. The agents in the airboat later reported that about 20 people on the Mexican shore began throwing rocks at the boat, but Mexican witnesses vehemently denied this. One of the agents on the boat aimed and fired at least five shots at the crowd, which included children. Two bullets hit Arevalo. He was rushed to a hospital but was pronounced dead after an unsuccessful attempt to revive him.
A complaint filed by Plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas alleges that the agents unlawfully used excessive force. Multiple eyewitnesses directly contradict Border Patrol’s assertion that Arevalo was throwing rocks before he was killed. The plaintiffs assert that, even assuming arguendo that Arevalo was throwing rocks, the agents’ response was grossly excessive; a cellphone video of the incident demonstrates that when the agents opened fire, they were beyond the distance at which any thrown rock could pose a risk of death or serious bodily injury, and in any case, the agents could have shielded themselves by moving the boat further from the Mexican shore.
The Plaintiffs allege that the agents were acting pursuant to the Border Patrol’s “Rocking Policy,” which permits the use of lethal force against persons throwing rocks and other objects in the direction of border patrol agents. The Plaintiffs also assert that, despite condemnation from the Mexican government and international human rights organizations, high-ranking DHS and CBP officials have acquiesced to the Rocking Policy.
Plaintiffs allege that the Rocking Policy violates various international treaties as well as the sovereignty of Mexico by permitting Border Patrol agents to fire their weapons into Mexico’s sovereign territory. They also claim that the Rocking Policy violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, reasonable attorney fees, and other reasonable relief.
On May 29, 2018, the parties filed a joint advisory on the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Hernandez v. Mesa, 885 F.3d 811 (5th Cir. 2018), a case that will be argued at the Supreme Court in November 2019. As of October 2019, the case is stayed pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Hernandez.
Counsel: Robert C. Hilliard | Singleton Law Firm, APC; Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, LLP
Contact: Robert C. Hilliard | firstname.lastname@example.org | (361) 882-1612