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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Brian Bennett, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Border Patrol agents have deliberately stepped in the path of cars to justify shooting at the drivers and have fired in frustration at people throwing rocks from the Mexican side of the border, according to an independent review of 67 cases that resulted in 19 deaths.

The report by law enforcement experts criticized the Border Patrol for “lack of diligence” in investigating U.S. agents who had fired their weapons. It also said it was unclear whether the agency “consistently and thoroughly reviews” use-of-deadly-force incidents.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which had commissioned the review, has tried to prevent the scathing 21-page report from coming to light.

House and Senate oversight committees requested copies last fall but received only a summary that omitted the most controversial findings — that some border agents stood in front of moving vehicles as a pretext to open fire and that agents could have moved away from rock throwers instead of shooting at them.

The Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau obtained the full report and the agency’s internal response, which runs 23 pages. The response rejects the two major recommendations: barring border agents from shooting at vehicles unless its occupants are trying to kill them, and barring agents from shooting people who throw things that can’t cause serious physical injury.

The response, marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive,” states that a ban on shooting at rock throwers “could create a more dangerous environment” because many agents operate “in rural or desolate areas, often alone, where concealment, cover and egress is not an option.”

If drug smugglers knew border agents were not allowed to shoot at their vehicles, it argues, more drivers would try to run over agents.

The new secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, is “reconsidering the response” to the two recommendations, a Homeland Security official said Wednesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Mexican authorities have complained for years that U.S. border agents who kill Mexicans are rarely disciplined and that the results of investigations are not made public for years. Critics warn that more deaths or abuses are inevitable unless stricter rules are imposed to limit use of lethal force.

“There needs to be a level of accountability if you want to change the culture and the pattern,” said Christopher Wilson, an expert on U.S.-Mexico relations at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington. “People are being killed that don’t need to be killed.”

The review was completed in February 2013 by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit research and policy organization in Washington that works closely with law enforcement agencies. Experts from the group were allowed to examine internal Border Patrol case files on 67 shooting incidents from January 2010 to October 2012.

The authors said evidence in the case files suggested border agents in some cases stood in the road to shoot at drivers who were trying to avoid arrest and who posed no direct lethal threat to them or others.

“It is suspected that in many vehicle shooting cases, the subject driver was attempting to flee from the agents who intentionally put themselves into the exit path of the vehicle, thereby exposing themselves to additional risk and creating justification for the use of deadly force,” the report reads. In some cases, “passengers were struck by agents’ gunfire.”

“It should be recognized that a half-ounce (200-grain) bullet is unlikely to stop a 4,000-pound moving vehicle, and if the driver … is disabled by a bullet, the vehicle will become a totally unguided threat,” it says. “Obviously, shooting at a moving vehicle can pose a risk to bystanders including other agents.”

The authors recommended training agents “to get out of the way … as opposed to intentionally assuming a position in the path of such vehicles.”

They also recommended that the Border Patrol adopt police policies used in most U.S. jurisdictions, which bar officers from firing at a moving vehicle unless deadly force is being used “by means other than a moving vehicle.”

Border Patrol officials defended the use-of-force policies, arguing that agents needed broad flexibility to protect themselves and the nation’s borders.

“In a lot of cases, Border Patrol agents find themselves in an area where they don’t have communications, they don’t have immediate backup and often don’t have the cover and concealment that urban areas provide when you are dealing with an escalation of force,” Border Patrol Chief Michael J. Fisher said in a telephone interview.

Shawn P. Moran, vice president of the Border Patrol union, said the agency was right to reject restrictions on when agents can shoot.

If smugglers “know we aren’t allowed to defend ourselves, we would see many more rock attacks …(and) assaults where vehicles try to run down agents because they would know there would be no repercussions,” Moran said from San Diego.

The Border Patrol has begun testing “less lethal” weapons — such as pepper spray, rubber bullets and Tasers — and added training on violent confrontations for new agents. Officials also now track shootings and rock-throwing incidents in a database intended to help leaders spot trends and adjust policy.

A Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report in September found that border agents opened fire on rock throwers 22 times in fiscal year 2012. It did not say how many people were injured by the “rock assaults” or by the gunfire.

In recent congressional hearings, some lawmakers criticized Customs and Border Protection officials for not fully disclosing when border agents are allowed to use deadly force, and what disciplinary actions, if any, had been taken.

“When a young person throws a rock across the border toward the border or border agents, some agents respond with a gun and other agents don’t respond at all. There seems to be some need for some consistency in the response to these incidents and how we treat it,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, said at a Jan. 15 confirmation hearing for Gil Kerlikowske, the Obama administration’s nominee to head Customs and Border Protection.

Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief, said he had never served in a law enforcement agency that did not make its use-of-force policies public. He promised to release more information if he is confirmed. His nomination has not yet been brought up for a vote in the Senate.

Photo by Steve Hillibrand via Wikimedia Commons

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]