US border agency releases report on use of force

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The U.S. Border Patrol's parent agency on Friday released a critical report that it commissioned amid complaints that agents used excessive force, a step that the new commissioner said was part of a commitment to transparency.

The Police Executive Research Forum found some agents are suspected of intentionally placing themselves in the escape route of assailants in fleeing vehicles before firing guns, creating justification to use deadly force. It said some shootings of rock throwers were questionable, especially when the attackers were hurling projectiles from across the border in Mexico. The 21-page report, which does not address specific cases, said some agents may fire at rock throwers and vehicles because they are frustrated.

The report was released with revised guidelines on use of force that prohibits agents from firing at moving vehicles or rock throwers unless there is "imminent danger of serious physical injury or death" to them or someone else. The new guidelines say agents should avoid standing in front of vehicles and that they may be able to shield themselves from rock throwers by seeking cover or distance.

The Customs and Border Protection agency had kept the report under wraps since it was completed in February 2013, resisting calls from members of Congress and immigration activists. R. Gil Kerlikowske was noncommittal at his confirmation hearing in January but said Friday that he prevailed in an internal debate about whether the report should be made public.

"We had a difference of opinion, and I won," Kerlikowske said at a news conference in Washington.

The agency had refused to make the report public even after the Los Angeles Times reported on its contents in February. The American Civil Liberties Union's San Diego affiliate sued in federal court last week to try to force the agency to turn it over.

Immigration activists, who urged Kerlikowske to release the report when they met with him Tuesday in San Francisco, claimed victory. Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, called it "a turning point for the strained relations between Customs and Border Protection and civil society."

The Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group that advises law enforcement agencies, said it reviewed 67 case files related to use of deadly force from January 2010 through October 2012.

Customs and Border Protection took "administrative action" against employees in two of those 67 cases, and internal investigations are open on 10, said spokesman Michael Friel. No disciplinary action was taken in the other 55 cases.

The agency imposed disciplinary action against employees for use of force in 14 cases from 2010 to 2013, Friel said. Eight employees were suspended and five were reprimanded.

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Associated Press writer Alicia A. Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report.