The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case implicating a U.S. Border Patrol agent in the cross-border shooting of a Mexican national in the border zone near El Paso, Texas, Tuesday.
The case asks the justices to determine how the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unjustified deadly force applies in the border zone and if the agent is protected by qualified immunity, which protects federal employees from civil suits when they are working in their official capacity.
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Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, a Mexican national, was shot and killed by Agent Jesus Mesa, Jr., July 7, 2010. Mesa was standing in the United States when he discharged his service weapon. Hernandez was shot — and died — on Mexican soil.
Lawyers for Hernandez’s family allege he and several friends were playing a game in which they ran up the inclined border culvert separating the U.S. and Mexico, touched the border fence, and retreated back into Mexico.
The U.S. Department of Justice strongly disputes this framing of the incident.
“After the shooting, the Department of Justice conducted a comprehensive and thorough investigation into the shooting, concluding that the shooting took place while alien smugglers, including Hernandez, unsuccessfully attempted an illegal border crossing, and began to hurl rocks from close range at Agent Mesa while he was attempting to detain a suspect,” Mesa’s brief for the Court reads. Hernandez had been arrested twice before for alien smuggling. The Justice Department declined to recommend criminal charges against Mesa.
The justices are not asked to reach findings on these factual disputes.