CREATED Nov. 6, 2013
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A decision allowing Border Patrol to continue using their guns against rock throwers is drawing support from agents and criticism from the ACLU.
Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol's parent agency, rejected recommendations on curbing its use of force from a government-commissioned review by the Police Executive Research Forum.
The Tucson Border Patrol Union president Art Del Cueto told 9 On Your Side he's encouraged agents wont have to compromise their safety in the line of duty.
"The rocks that you're seeing in downtown Tucson are a lot different than these rocks people are picking up in the desert or near the border," Del Cueto said.
For those not on the front lines like Del Cueto, it is a debate whether Border Patrol should respond to rocks with bullets.
"I've seen some of these objects that have been thrown at these vehicles and if they didn't have the bars on the window, they would have been killed," said Mel Webb of Green Valley.
"They're just rocks," said Sandra of Rio Rico. "Can a rock kill a person? But a gun can."
Along the border in Nogales in Oct. 2012, Border Patrol agents shot and killed Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. Agents say the 16-year-old was throwing rocks over the fence at them, but the boy's family told 9 On Your Side a much different story.
"Claro que no," no way his grandmother told us, adding she knows there are no rocks along that stretch.
"In many cases invoking alleged rock throwers, the initial account by the agency was subsequently rejected by witnesses by evidence at the scene," American Civil Liberties Union attorney James Lyall said.
The ACLU says Border Patrol missed a chance to crack down on the use of excessive force.
"Don't listen to me," Lyall said. "Listen to the law enforcement experts who are saying that they need to revise their policies."
Without a change in policy, agents like Del Cueto say they feel safer going up against the dangers along the border.
"We will have to respond with the way we've been trained and that is to go home at the end of the day and make sure that our life and and lives we're responsible for their lives are not in danger," Del Cueto said.
The ACLU reports Border Patrol agents have killed 20 people since 2010. Rodriguez's death is one of eight involving rock throwing.