Univision Shows Cell Phone Video Of Border Shooting

Tension is growing on the border between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. An American border agent shot and killed a Mexican teen, who was reportedly throwing rocks. Cell phone video that contains vivid pictures of the shooting has been broadcast by Univision.

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Tensions are rising between the U.S. and Mexico over an incident Monday in which a Border Patrol agent shot and killed a Mexican teenager on the Rio Grande River. The youth was allegedly throwing rocks. Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, says he's worried about a surge of violence against Mexicans. His government has protested the shooting to the U.S. government. And now a cell phone video that contains vivid pictures of that shooting has been wildly broadcast and thus further enflamed Mexicans. NPR's John Burnett reports from El Paso.

JOHN BURNETT: The broadcast of this video throughout Mexico by the TV network Univision has had an electrifying effect. In the grainy black and white images, you can clearly see a Border Patrol agent climb off his bicycle and attempt to apprehend four of five suspects. They can be seen crawling through a hole in a U.S. border fence and running toward the shallow, muddy Rio Grande into Mexico.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

BURNETT: While holding one of the suspected crossers on the ground, the agent appears to fire his handgun toward Juarez. A woman off camera explains the men are throwing rocks at him. Then the video shows a lifeless body lying next to a concrete pillar on the Mexican side.

U.S. and Mexican authorities interpret the video very differently. A federal agent in El Paso close to the investigation says that it proves the Border Patrol agent was surrounded, felt threatened by rock throwers, and was justified in using deadly force.

But Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz watched the video and concluded the stone throwers never surrounded the agent but were across the river.

Mayor JOSE REYES FERRIZ (Ciudad Juarez, Mexico): The fact that you can see how the shooting took place shows that it is going to be very difficult to prove that there was a substantial threat to life or safety for the officer to use lethal force like he did.

BURNETT: The Mexican foreign ministry has condemned the agent's behavior, calling it disproportionate and unjustified force when he fired his weapon to stop a rock thrower.

But Jim Stack, local union president of the National Border Patrol Council, states that agents are authorized to use deadly force if they believe an individual has put their lives in grave danger.

Mr. JIM STACK (National Border Patrol Council): Well, rocking - as what we call it - that's a potentially fatal situation to the agent. I mean, if a rock, depending on its size and velocity, were to strike one in the head, it could kill you. And if it doesn't kill you, it could certainly pose serious injury and it could also daze you, render you unconscious. If you are dazed or rendered unconscious because of a rocking, they can certainly come and finish off the job and take advantage of your unconscious state or your dazed state.

BURNETT: The shooting occurred under a railroad bridge between El Paso and Juarez in an area notorious for illegal crossings and confrontations with U.S. agents. On Thursday, the Border Patrol released information that the victim, 15-year-old Sergio Hernandez Huereca, has been caught numerous times in recent years for attempting to smuggle immigrants into El Paso. Relatives, on the other hand, have told reporters that Hernandez was a student who came from a hard-working family and stayed out of trouble.

And at his funeral Thursday afternoon, grief mixed with rage at the officer who shot him. The Border Patrol has put the agent on administrative leave during the investigation.

(Soundbite of sobbing)

BURNETT: Sergio Hernandez was buried in a working-class cemetery on a rocky windblown hill next to the graves of hundreds of young men struck down in the city's relentless cartel war. His 34-year-old sister, Angelica, rejects the claim her brother was a coyote, an immigrant smuggler.

ANGELICA: (Through translator) Sure, they're trying to clean themselves to say my brother was terrible, but even so, they didn't have the right to kill him -and he was not a coyote.

BURNETT: Border Patrol agents fear retaliation from Mexicans angry over the death Sergio Hernandez. The Border Patrol union chief has suggested that agents be permitted to patrol in pairs instead of alone, expecting the controversy will get worse before it gets better.

John Burnett, NPR News, El Paso.

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