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No charges for Border Patrol agent who fatally shot migrant near Douglas

Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2022 - 6:29pm
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The Cochise County Attorney’s Office says it won’t pursue charges of a Border Patrol Agent who fatally shot a Mexican migrant earlier this year. 

Border Patrol Agent Kendrek Bybee Staheli fatally shot 32-year-old Carmelo Cruz Marcos during a late night incident on a remote trail near Douglas in February. 

Cruz was a husband and father of three children. His family has retained lawyer Bill Karns to pursue a civil suit against the U.S. government over his death. 

"The family is obviously upset that there’s no criminal charges being brought against this Border Patrol agent for what we see is an obvious case of excessive force and obvious violations of law," he said.

But in a letter to Cochise County Sheriff's Office, County Attorney Brian McIntyre disagrees. He says after reviewing the available evidence, Staheli’s actions appear justified under self defense laws in Arizona. 

An autopsy shows Cruz was shot four times. The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, which conducted an investigation into the case, said Staheli told investigators Cruz punched him during a scuffle and that, fearing for his life, he fired when Cruz picked up a large rock and seemed poised to throw it at him. 

In his letter, McIntyre says no other witnesses were present during the exchange and there was no physical evidence to contradict Staheli's account. He said Arizona law requires the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the conduct was not justified. 

"There is insufficient evidence contradicting the Agent’s explanation of the events in question to meet this high burden," the letter read.

In addition to the Cochise County Sheriff's Office investigation, the case was also referred to Customs and Border Protection's Office of Professional Responsibility, which has not yet released its findings. The CBP wing is responsible for investigating agent conduct, though in previous cases Critical Incident Teams, the Border Patrol's controversial internal investigative units, have also been deployed to collect evidence on scene. 

The units have been accused by rights groups of covering up agent misconduct and interfering with outside investigations. Several members of Congress asked for a government probe into the legality of the teams earlier this year. This week, CBP announced they will be disbanded by October and their evidence-gathering duties will be handed over to personnel at the Office of Professional Responsibility.