A youth rides along Calle Internacional, in the Buenos Aires neighborhood on the east side of Nogales, Sonora. The low section of the fence behind him is one of the busiest crossing spots for migrants and drugs in the area, residents and Border Patrol agents say. (Photo: Nick Oza, The Arizona Republic)
NOGALES, Sonora (USA TODAY) -- A scruffy dirt road runs along the U.S. border
fence here, up and down several hilly, rugged blocks in the gritty,
cartel-dominated Buenos Aires neighborhood. Anyone standing on higher
ground here can watch the white-and-green Border Patrol vehicles on the
U.S. side and see where the agents are at any moment.
This is where the rocks come from.
short stretch across the fence from this road, just a few hundred yards
long, is perhaps the onespot along the entire U.S.-Mexico border where
Border Patrol agents are most likely to be attacked with rocks and to
respond with force.
Roughly one in every six incidents along the
2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border in which agents used force against rock
throwers in recent years occurred here, across the fence from three
adjacent streets leading to the fence in Nogales, Ariz., an
investigation by The Arizona Republic has found.
know that what they call "rockings" are a constant threat on the U.S.
side along Short Street, East Street and Escalada Drive, all of which
end at the border fence near the top of a large hill, just east of the
Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry.
Even though Border Patrol reports
show that long-range less-lethal weapons, such as one that fires
irritant "pepper balls," are highly effective at dispersing rock
throwers, Customs and Border Protection doesn't require agents assigned
to urban areas such as this one to carry such weapons.
STORY: Numbers don't back need for lethal force at border
STORY: Wall of silence surrounds killings by border agents
Many agents do. The Republic
analyzed nearly 1,600 CBP use-of-force reports nationwide from 2010 to
mid-2012, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. These
reports, the most recent CBP has disclosed, showed the vast majority of
the time agents responded to rockings with less-lethal weapons and
easily dispersed rock throwers without injury to the agents, rock
throwers or bystanders in the crowded areas on both sides of the border.
have several less-lethal long-range alternatives. The pepper-ball
launching system, essentially a modified paintball gun, can fire more
than 10 balls per second filled with pepper spray, letting agents
saturate an area up to 60 feet away with irritating vapors. The
longer-range FN-303, a rifle-style weapon, uses compressed air to shoot
"kinetic impact" projectiles,similar to rubber bullets, which are meant
to incapacitate people without killing them. The sting-ball grenade is a
hand-thrown grenade that sets off a flash and a loud bang, exploding
several hundred small rubber balls, quickly clearing an area.
nearly all of the 50 incident reports in east Nogales in which one of
these less-lethal devices was used, agents reported that the rock
throwers retreated south into Mexico without further incident. But some
agents opt not to carry these weapons. In at least three incidents where
agents weren't carrying less-lethal devices, calls were made for
someone to bring them the weaponsso they could disperse the rock
That was the case at about 3 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2011.
During a rocking on Escalada Drive, an agent radioed in, urgently asking
for a pepper-ball launcher to be brought there. But moments later, an
agent - the heavily redacted report doesn't say whether it was the same
one - fired his M4 rifle through the fence into Mexico.
And 17-year-old Ramses Barron Torres fell to the ground, shot through the chest.
In pirate territory
past 2:30 on a recent sunny winter afternoon in the Buenos Aires
neighborhood in Nogales, Sonora, a half-dozen young Mexicans rushed to
the international border fence.
Quickly, they set metal ladders
against the 20-foot-high rust-colored barrier. With what appeared to be
bundles of marijuana strapped to their backs, several clambered swiftly
up in two spots. From the top, they dropped ropes into the United States
and slid down.
They crossed inwhat appeared to be plain sight of
two Border Patrol sport-utility vehicles sitting perched on ridges to
either side of the crossing spot, only 200 to 300 yards away. In less
than 30 seconds, at least four people crossed into Arizona and
disappeared amid the ravines, hillsides and houses across the fence.
Neither of the Border Patrol vehicles appeared to move. Contacted later,
Border Patrol officials wouldn't say whether they caught any crossers
or seized any drugs in the area that day, Jan. 27.
As the crossers
climbed the fence, a glassy-eyed man in his early 20s pedaled furiously
up the road on his BMX-style bike and shouted at two Arizona Republic reporters and a photographer witnessing the crossing.
"If you take pictures of my friends we will take your cameras," he yelled in Spanish. "Don't take pictures."
For more than a decade, the Buenos Aires colonia, or neighborhood,
has been described by Nogales residents as neglected by authorities and
ceded to the cartels that control the crossings of migrants and drug
runners into Arizona. The neighborhood is among the oldest and poorest
in the city. Border Patrol agents say cartel lookouts watch them
constantly from the hilltops here overlooking the fence, and that the
cartels pay youths to throw rocks to distract or deter agents from
Many residents declined to speak to reporters.
One glanced at another youth on a BMX bike and muttered about lookouts.
The youth he looked at seemed surprised when a reporter approached.
should be careful," said the youth, circling on his bike. "This is a
mafia area, the territory of piratas." He said he didn't know anything
about anyone ever throwing rocks.
Not knowing seems to be a survival skill here.
come home from work, I go straight into my house; I don't see anything;
I don't know anything," snapped a small older woman, gray hair in a
tight bun, whose home faces the border fence.
But not everyone
fears talking.Another longtime resident said she's seen youths throwing
rocks at agents manytimes. She glanced down the unpaved street. Rocks
"They throw sometimes when the agents come, and
I've seen them fire back. The pepper spray is very strong," she said. "I
worry about my kids."
Her brother interrupted. "If you provoke
the agents, they'll defend themselves." He shrugged. "If someone was
throwing rocks at me, I'd fire back, too." Anyhow, he added, "better the
pepper than bullets. The pepper won't kill you."
narratives of the rockings from use-of-force reports by Border Patrol
agents on the three Nogales streets are similar. Agents see people
crossing the fence, often with bundles on their back. They try to
apprehend them. The agents then report being assaulted with rocks thrown
by people on top of the fence or on the ground in Mexico. In some
cases, the agents report rocks being thrown at them or their vehicles
while on patrol.
In most incident reports The Republic reviewed,
agents used either a pepper-ball launcher or other less-lethal weapons,
such as the FN-303 or sting-ball grenades, to disperse the rock
Since 2010, there have been eight incidents nationwide
in which agents have killed alleged rock throwers, including six in
which they fired across the border into Mexico. That includes twoin
Nogales:the Barron Torres case and the October 2012 shooting of Jose
Antonio Elena Rodriguez. On Jan. 30, 2012, a Border Patrol agent fired
at rock throwers in Mexico while breaking up a drug-smuggling incident
near where Barron Torres was killed. An alleged rock thrower was wounded
and taken to a nearby hospital.
Six people were killed in known
cross-border rocking incidents between 2010-13 compared with two in
2006-09. The rise in deaths occurred even as the number of assaults
against agents fell by 1,168 over the same time period.
several high-profile deaths in recent years, the Border Patrol's use-of
force policies - which CBP has refused to make public - have become an
issue. In response to a demand by members of Congress, Homeland
Security's Office of Inspector General issued a heavily redacted report
last September recommending changes to the agency's use-of-force
training and policies.
The report's recommendations were censored.
But Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher revealed one of them to The
Associated Press, saying that, despite the recommendations, the Border
Patrol would continue to consider rocks deadly weapons and to authorize
agents to respond to rock-throwing with deadly force.
Patrol requires agents to carry a .40-caliber handgun and one
close-range less-lethal weapon, either a collapsible steel baton or a
can of pepper spray. But it doesn't require agents to be certified in or
carry other less-lethal weapons.
A less-lethal weapon was not
available in time when an agent called for one as 17-year-old Barron
Torres was allegedly throwing rocks at them from Mexico in early 2011.
Less lethal call
2:50 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2011, Border Patrol agents monitoring cameras
along the border fence near Escalada Drive, in Nogales,reported seeing
two people climb the border fence and go back into Mexico from the
United States, according to a report on the Torres shooting from the
U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, obtained through a
Freedom of Information Act request.
Agents watching on camera said
they saw an SUV in Mexico drive up to the fence. Two people got out.
The report said they appeared to confront the two individuals who had
just crossed into Mexico.
One person climbed back over the fence into Arizona, picked up a
bundle of marijuana on the ground and took it back to Mexico. Then that
person climbed back over and picked up another bundle.
arrived in his service vehicle and came under attack from three to five
people throwing "big rocks" from Mexico, the report said. An agent, the
report doesn't say which one, called for backup from any agent with a
pepper-ball launching system.
Before that could happen, an agent
shot through openings in the fence with his .223 caliber M4 rifle,
striking Barron Torres in the chest. The teen was loaded into a red
Dodge Durango and taken to a Sonora hospital, where he died.
agent's account of the shooting was almost completely redacted in the
federal report, but the unredacted portion said pepper-ball launchers
release "an extremely effective super irritant called PAVA pepper
(Capsaicin II). The systems are contact safe, target accurate within 60
feet and provide area saturation with PAVA within a 200-foot range."
launchers can be particularly effective because they can be shot over
the fence and saturate a large area, forcing rock throwers to retreat
quickly or face highly irritating vapors that cling to skin and
The report said the Border Patrol cameras did not
capture the agent firing, but did show Barron Torres making a throwing
motion with his arm and then crumpling to the ground in mid-throw when
he was shot. The agent was standing an estimated 40 feet from the fence.
It is not clear exactly where Barron Torres was on the south side.
federal government declined to pursue criminal charges because
officials said the agent had a claim of self-defense and didn't pursue
civil charges because Barron Torres was standing in Mexico when he was
The youth's self-described adoptive mother, Rosa Avechoco,
said she doesn't believe he was throwing rocks. But even if he was, "a
rock is not a deadly weapon in the same way a bullet is," she said.
"They claim that they were defending themselves, but they didn't have to
Cartels hire kids
From 2010 to mid-2012 -
the 29 months covered in the data that CBP provided - there were more
than 300 use-of-force incidents nationwidein which agents used force
against rock throwers. Fifty of those incidents occurred at or near
Short Street, East Street and Escalada Drive in eastern Nogales. There
may be more, but many incident reports contained too little information
to determine the location.
More than one-third of all the rockings
nationwide to which agents responded with force occurred in the Nogales
Station of the Tucson Sector. There are other hot spots for rocking
along the border, including along the border fence in Calexico and San
Diego, Calif., and on the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas. CBP had not
responded by deadline to a 6-month-old Freedom of Information Act
request for data since mid-2012.
Border Patrol spokesman Adame
said rockings have been decreasing. They accounted for 63 out of the 152
assaults against Border Patrol agents in Arizona last fiscal year, just
over 40 percent. CBP's numbers don't include whether the agents
responded with force.
Adame said that assaults along the Arizona
portion of the border dropped 46 percent from a year earlier. "It's
dropped a lot the last couple of years because of the new fence, and
because we've made leaps and bounds in terms of our cooperation with
Mexican authorities," he said. The new fence is taller and longer than
Art del Cueto, president of the Border Patrol agent
union local for the Tucson Sector, said he's been subjected to
rockings, but he opts not to carry a pepper-ball launcher.
are a lot of factors that go into carrying these things," he said. "It's
an extra piece of equipment to carry around, and it's bulky. Not
everyone is trained to use it."
Cueto said many of those throwing rocks at agents are teenagers hired by the cartels.
lot of them are young kids throwing rocks," Cueto said. "But they're
paid to throw rocks at agents by these organizations that cross drugs
and people ... they're kids, but they're there for a reason."
You may also like...
Underwater Secret: Hidden caves beneath Weeki Wachee
Rollercoaster Rescue: 16 stranded after ride
Car Crash tragedy: USF students killed in interstate wrong-way crash
Hungry Sinkhole: Hole opens beneath Corvette museum, swallows 8 cars
Be my McValentine: Romantic reservations at McDonald's
Card Game Murder: Man sentenced
for Magic: The Gathering killing
Treason? Secret Service visits candidate who says
Obama should hang
Sasquatch on Tour: "Dead Bigfoot" on display in Texas
Here kitty, kitty: Lion escapes enclosure at Pasco sanctuary
#ShortYellows: Florida quietly shortened yellow lights
Kittens shot: Officer shoots kittens in front of children
Popular photo galleries:
Faces of Meth: Devastating before and after photos of meth abusers
Trayvon Martin Shooting: Trayvon Martin crime scene photos and George
Zimmerman injury photos
Hooters Winners: Winners of the 2013 Hooters swimsuit pageant
Rejected: Funny Florida license plates rejected by the DMV ***warning
Deadly sinkhole: Home collapses, man dies in giant sinkhole
Florida Sex Offenders: Look up sex offenders in any Florida neighborhood here
Restaurant Inspections: Look up inspection reports for any Florida restaurant here