Category Archives: Crime

Tucson border agent shot and wounded near Arizona-Mexico border

One of rancher Jim Chilton’s pastures near Arivaca is shown. A Border Patrol agent was shot and wounded near the ranch Tuesday, Chilton said he was told by the agency. Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star

A Tucson Border Patrol agent shot and wounded south of Arivaca while on duty Tuesday was in stable condition, a union representative said.

The agent was involved in a shooting incident about 4:30 a.m., officials said in a news release. Jim Chilton, a local rancher, said he was told by the Border Patrol that the agent was by himself and struck in the hand, leg and into his protective vest, “which worked, thank God,” he said. “How he got from that state to be rescued, I have no idea.”

The agent, whose name hasn’t been released, was taken to a hospital where he was in stable condition, said Art Del Cueto, president of the local chapter of the Border Patrol Union.

The agency said several people were taken into custody.

The shooting happened in the Chimney Canyon area, about 10 miles from the border and close to Chilton’s ranch house in an area frequently used by drug and people smugglers.

“Chimney Canyon is a wide canyon which undoubtedly has cartel scouts on the mountains that guide drug packers and individuals just trying to get into the U.S.,” Chilton said, adding that he has seen increased traffic in the area during the last couple of months.

Chilton ranches 50,000 acres that include a remote stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border in the Altar Valley.

The Border Patrol has released very little information about the incident, citing the ongoing investigation. A news conference initially scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday was postponed until Wednesday morning. The FBI and Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Personal Responsibility are involved in the investigation.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

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Border agent Lonnie Swartz to be tried again in cross-border shooting of teen

“They gave me and my family good news,” Araceli Rodriguez, the mother of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, said after a retrial was announced Friday in the shooting death of her son. The trial is set to start Oct. 23. Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz will be tried again in the killing of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez.

Federal prosecutors announced their decision for a new trial on voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges at a hearing Friday in Tucson’s federal court. The trial is scheduled to start Oct. 23.

Swartz, originally charged with second-degree murder in the 2012 shooting, was acquitted of that charge on April 23 by a jury of eight women and four men. U.S. District Judge Raner Collins gave them the option to consider voluntary and involuntary manslaughter if they were unable to reach a verdict. But after four days of deliberation, the jurors told the judge they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on the lesser charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Sue Feldmeier said she couldn’t comment on the government’s decision to retry the case. But Sean Chapman, one of two defense attorneys representing Swartz, said he wasn’t surprised.

“It’s typical in a homicide case where there was a mistrial on some counts,” he said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Full coverage or the Lonnie Swartz trial.

Jurors on opposite sides: Was agent stopping threat, or lethally over-reacting?

Kevin Briggs and Heather Schubert, two of the 12 jurors in the murder trial of Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz. Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star.

After sitting in a courtroom and listening to evidence for four weeks, a Tucson jury was deadlocked almost immediately on whether to convict Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz — a reflection of the strong divisions in society when it comes to law enforcement and the border.

Swartz, 43, was indicted in 2015 after firing 16 shots through the border fence at Nogales in response to rock throwers, killing Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez. The 16-year-old Mexico native was hit eight times in the back and twice in the head.

While the decision to not convict the agent on a second-degree murder charge was quick, the jurors couldn’t agree on two lesser charges: voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, two jurors said in interviews.

“We felt second-degree was not an appropriate sentence for him,” said Heather Schubert.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Full coverage or the Lonnie Swartz trial.

The trial of Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz

Lawyers in the second-degree murder trial of Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz, left, say he was protecting himself from rock throwers when he fired through the border fence. Ron Medvescek/Arizona Daily Star

For prosecutors, Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz was the man who in the span of 34 seconds fired 16 shots through the border fence, killing an unarmed Mexican teenager.

To the defense, he was an agent scared to death, operating in a busy drug-trafficking area, who had to make a split-second decision to protect himself and his fellow law enforcers from a group of rock throwers — including 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez.

The government and defense presented their cases  in U.S. District Court in Tucson over four weeks. On April 23, the jury found him not guilty of second-degree murder and couldn’t reach a verdict on voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.

The government decided to retry Swartz on the lesser charges. The new trial is scheduled for late October.

Follow my coverage of the case below. Latest story is first.

Border agent Lonnie Swartz to be tried again in cross-border shooting of teen

Activists to rally at Tucson courthouse during hearing on border agent’s retrial

Jurors on opposite sides: Was agent stopping threat, or lethally over-reacting?

Feds mull retrial after border agent cleared in Mexican teen’s killing

Jurors in border agent’s trial deadlocked, judge says keep deliberating

Judge: Jurors can consider less-serious charges in border slaying case

Closing arguments expected early this week in border agent’s murder trial

Arizona border agent’s first shot killed Mexican teen, pathologist testifies

US border agent testifies he shot Mexican teenager to protect himself, other officers

First defense witness veers from expectations in border agent’s murder trial

Border agent’s Tucson murder trial this week to include testimony from Mexican officials

Testimony in border agent’s trial centers on whether teen was alive after first shots

Rock attacks vs. gunfire at issue in border agent’s murder trial

Border Patrol policies about rock-throwers dominate Day 2 of agent’s murder trial

Unjustified killing or self-defense? Border Patrol agent’s murder trial opens

Border Patrol agent to go on trial Tuesday in 2012 shooting death of teen

Specter of cartel-made opioid rears head in Arizona

Reuven Shorr with a photo of himself and his younger brother Ezra as kids in Tucson. Ezra died of a mixed-drug overdose, which included fentanyl, in November 2014. Photo by Ron Medvescek/Arizona Daily Star.

A strong synthetic opioid made by the Sinaloa cartel is increasingly making its way through Arizona, and officials fear a rise in drug-related deaths will follow.

The strongest opioid available in medical treatment, pharmaceutical fentanyl, is used to treat severe pain and is usually administered through a patch. The euphoria-inducing drug is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Over the last couple of years, more than 700 people have died of fentanyl abuse in the United States, but the real number is likely higher because many state labs and coroner’s offices do not routinely test for fentanyl. Most deaths are attributed to the illegally manufactured version of the drug.

Since 2015, law enforcement agencies in Arizona have made at least five seizures of fentanyl — ranging from 4 ounces to 16 pounds — found inside stash houses and vehicles.

There are about 500,000 potential lethal doses of fentanyl in about 2 pounds, the Drug Enforcement Administration calculates. The equivalent to three grains of salt can be lethal to someone with a low tolerance.

“Fentanyl can put people to sleep to the point they can stop breathing,” said Greg Hess, chief medical examiner in Pima County. “Because fentanyl is more potent, the window or margin of error might be less for someone not as experienced.”

Only a small amount is needed of the illegal powder fentanyl cartels make to mix with heroin to make it stronger. Nationwide, persons dying from fentanyl are mostly heroin users exposed to fentanyl without knowing it.

There is no state data on fentanyl-related deaths, but the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner reported an increase from seven overdose deaths where fentanyl was listed as a contributing factor in 2014 to 17 last year.

“But what it means in the larger scheme of things, I don’t know,” said Hess.

The numbers include all overdose cases from Cochise, Santa Cruz and Pinal counties and additional cases from eight other counties.

During this time, there were only two deaths where combined heroin and fentanyl toxicity was listed as the cause of death. Medical examiners can’t distinguish between the pharmaceutical fentanyl and the illegally manufactured fentanyl smuggled through the U.S.-Mexico border.

But as the seizures continue, officials said it’s only a matter of time before the potentially deadly fentanyl-laced heroin makes its way here.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Rare cross-border drug raid leaves 2 dead, 22 in custody

Two people were killed and 22 suspected members of the Sinaloa Cartel were arrested during what is believed to be an unprecedented cross-border law enforcement operation in Sonora, officials say.

Mexican officials had been investigating a stash house that was used for drugs and people in a rural area of the border town of Sonoyta, Sonora. The town is across the border from Lukeville, the popular border crossing used to reach the beach town of Puerto Penasco.

On Friday, Mexican federal officers raided the property, resulting in a shootout with armed men guarding the property.

The names of those killed and those arrested have not been provided, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said over the weekend that those arrested were in the custody of the Mexican government. American officials were to seek extradition of individuals facing criminal charges here.

Mexican law enforcement staged for the operation in Lukeville with the assistance of U.S. law enforcement agencies, which some call a first.

“I’ve been living here for 15 years, and there’s no precedent for a mega-operation, even less so of a binational one,” said Hugo Regalado, Sonoyta’s city manager. He said city officials have been talking with long-time Sonoyta residents and no one remembers seeing anything like it before.

The operation, dubbed Diablo Express, involved about 15 to 20 Mexican federal police vehicles and four or five helicopters, Regalado said.

The city awaits specific information about the operation, he said, noting that local government was not notified before the raid.

While the cross-border cooperation is unusual here, a 2011 report by The New York Times noted that the Obama administration was allowing the Mexican police to stage for drug raids from inside the United States.

During the rare operations, the New York Times said, Mexican commandos assembled in designated areas in the United States and dispatched helicopter missions back across the border aimed at suspected drug traffickers. That is what has been described in Friday’s raid that launched from Lukeville.

Tony Coulson, who retired as the agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Tucson office in 2010, said he had never seen anything like it.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this, where armed Mexican police is brought to this side to actually stage an operation into Mexico,” he said.

In Friday’s raid, authorities confiscated 15 assault weapons, three handguns and more than 500 pounds of marijuana. Coulson said the drugs and weapons are far less important than who they arrested.

“You want to get at the highest level of who controls that corridor in order to totally disrupt and dismantle that group,” he said. “Your whole goal of an operation like that is to get key lieutenants who run the command and control the infrastructure of that area or group.”

Sonoyta is strategically important for the trafficking of drugs into Southern California, Coulson said.

“The corridor from Rocky Point to Sonoyta is a critical part of whoever controls the Baja California and Tijuana plaza,” he said.

The Sinaloa Cartel is one of world’s most notorious drug-trafficking rings.

Escape’s impact on Sonora is uncertain

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s escape from prison might lead to more instability within the Sinaloa Cartel, but its effect on Sonora, is still unknown, officials said.

“Some of the up-and-comers may have maneuvered themselves into better positions while he was away,” said Erica Curry, a Phoenix spokeswoman with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“We are anticipating that El Chapo with his people may reassert his influence,” she said. That might lead to resistance from those who had positioned themselves in leadership roles.

The Sinaloa Cartel has decentralized over the past few years, leading to sporadic, violent power struggles between plaza bosses in northern Sonora.

So far this year, dozens of people, mostly believed to be associated with organized crime, have been killed in the Sonoyta and Caborca regions, across the border from Lukeville, Ariz., due to fighting between cells of the Sinaloa cartel known as Los Memos and Los Salazar.

“It will be interesting to see if that (violence) increases as different factions of the cartels, the lower level members are fighting out there and how they aligned themselves with El Chapo’s return,” Curry said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.