Homeland Security reviewing border use-of-force

ALICIA A. CALDWELL, Associated Press
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Jeh Johnson (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Jeh Johnson (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — New Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is reviewing the department’s use of force policies, a Homeland Security official said Friday.

The official said Johnson has been reviewing the rules about when border agents can use their guns since he took office in December.

The official was not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, has been criticized by civil rights groups and others for allowing border agents to use deadly force against people blamed for throwing rocks at them.

Last year, three separate reviews of CBP’s use-of-force policies were completed, and acting commissioner Thomas Winkowski said the agency agreed with “the spirit and concerns underlying all of the recommendations” in all three reports.

Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher later told The Associated Press that the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group that led a government-commissioned review of the agency’s force policy, recommended that CBP prohibit deadly force against rock throwers and assailants in vehicles. CBP rejected the two recommendations, which Fisher called “very restrictive.” Right now, agents are allowed to use deadly force if they have a reasonable belief that their lives or the lives of others are in danger.

The government-funded report has not been publicly released.

Earlier this week The Los Angeles Times reported that it obtained a copy of the report, which it described as critical of the Border Patrol’s “lack of diligence” in investigating agents who fired their guns. The newspaper said the report also concluded that “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.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said she read the report and found it “very disturbing.”

“It makes clear that there needs to be very serious reform efforts at the agency,” she said. “You don’t use lethal force against nonlethal force.”

The Homeland Security official said Johnson’s review was not prompted by any additional incidents or new details.

According to a report from the department’s inspector general, agents were attacked with rocks 339 times in the 2011 budget year. Rock-throwing incidents were the most common assault reported. Agents responded with gunfire 33 times and with less-than-lethal force, including the use of pepper spray and batons, 118 times.

The latest incident happened on Feb. 18, when an agent opened fire after being hit in the head with a rock along the border near San Diego. The Border Patrol said in a statement that the agent feared for his life. Neither the agent nor the man killed was immediately identified.

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Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report. Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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