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Border Agent Who Fatally Shot Mexican Teen Isn't Immune, Court Says

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Border Agent Who Fatally Shot Mexican Teen Isn't Immune, Court Says
The decision opens the door for José Antonio Elena Rodriguez's family to seek damages from the border patrol agent.
SHOW TRANSCRIPT

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court decided a U.S. border agent who fatally shot a Mexican teen across the border in 2012 doesn't have immunity.

The ruling allows the victim's mother to proceed with her civil lawsuit against the U.S. agent. She sued the agent for damages in 2014, saying he violated her son's constitutional rights.

But does the U.S. Constitution extend to non-citizens on foreign soil? The court's response: Possibly, in this specific case.

The case started in 2012 when border patrol agent Lonnie Swartz shot José Antonio Elena Rodriguez 10 times, including eight in the back, according to the autopsy. Swartz said he acted in self-defense because 16-year-old Elena Rodriguez threw rocks at him through a border fence in Nogales, Arizona.

The agent's attorney also argued that his client was immune from a civil lawsuit because he's a public official and because the victim was a Mexican citizen on Mexican soil when he was fatally shot.

But the court disagreed for two reasons: First, because the agent's use of force took place on American soil. And second, because Swartz couldn't have known whether Elena Rodriguez was an American or Mexican citizen when he shot him. 

The ruling says that Elena Rodriguez "had a Fourth Amendment right to be free from the unreasonable use of deadly force ... even though the agent’s bullets hit him in Mexico."

The ACLU attorney representing the boy's mother told AP that the decision is "an enormous victory for the family" that proves that "the Constitution does not have a hard stop at the border." 

As for Swartz, he's been on administrative leave since 2015 and his lawyer told NPR he might ask the Supreme Court to take the case.

In a criminal trial regarding the same fatal shooting, a jury acquitted Swartz of second-degree murder in April but couldn't come to a decision on a count of manslaughter. A retrial is scheduled for Oct. 23.