KTEP - El Paso, Texas

ACLU demands CBP investigate deadly crash, release Border Patrol vehicle pursuit policy

Aug 28, 2021

An agent in a Border Patrol vehicle in El Paso stood guard near the banks of the Rio Grande.
Credit Angela Kocherga / KTEP News

EL PASO -- The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for the U.S. Border Patrol make its vehicle pursuit policy public following a crash on a state road in southern New Mexico earlier this month that killed two people and injured eight others.

“Without the policy we don't have a way to kind of measure when Border Patrol is or isn't justified in undertaking these types of pursuits,” said Rebecca Sheff, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico.

“We know they're extremely dangerous, not just to the occupants of the vehicle that they're pursuing, but the public at large when you have these chases taking place on public roads," Sheff said. 

The deadly crash happened early morning August 3rd on New Mexico state road 185. According to a press release from U.S. Border Patrol, an agent began following a Ford Expedition and when the driver tried to go around a checkpoint,  the agent, “activated his emergency equipment and attempted to stop the vehicle while an additional Border Patrol unit pursued the smuggler.” 

The press release further states, “The driver of the Expedition failed to yield and continued for approximately three miles until the driver lost control and crashed, which ejected several occupants from the vehicle. “ 

The ACLU of Texas and New Mexico in a letter Wednesday to the acting director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection asked that CBP “ensure that robust and independent investigations are conducted by the agency…”  The ACLU also expressed concern that the details of the events surrounding the crash were only available via CBP’s own press release, which the agency did not issue until 14 days after the incident.

The crash is not an isolated incident according to ACLU which cites a 2019 ProPublica study examining more than 500 incidents that found that one in three Border Patrol vehicle pursuits ended in a deadly accident. The ACLU has also tracked 56 additional deaths resulting from Border Patrol involved chases since 2010.

“That pattern,  of increasing concern, is exacerbated by the fact that we have never laid eyes on teh Border Patrol's own vehicle purusit policy and that is completely out of step with all major policy departments aroudn the courntry," said Shaw Drake,  policy counsel for the ACLU of Texas. 

Several major cities limit their use of high-speed chases and make their pursuit policies public. The ACLU has requested CBP’s written vehicle pursuit policy following other chases that ended in deadly crashes. It’s concerning said Drake that several have happened in the  Border Patrol’s El Paso sector which includes all of southern New Mexico.

In June of last year seven people, including four El Paso teens, where killed in a crash in downtown El Paso. Agents started following the car after it picked up people in an area used by human smugglers according to Border Patrol. The “pursuit was terminated” before the crash according to a statement from Border Patrol issued right after the accident.

Witnesses say the 18-year-old driver was speeding away from Border Patrol vehicles when he slammed the Chevy Cruze into a parked tractor trailer rig. Border Patrol agents were among the first on the scene according to witnesses.  Some of those pulled from the car in the June 2020 crash were undocumented migrants.

The U.S. Border Patrol in response to a request for comment on the ACLU's demand that CBP release its vehicle pursuit policy and independely investigate the August 3rd accident emailed statement.

“This incident is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the New Mexico State Police, and reviewed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility and the El Paso County Office of the Medical Examiner,” according to a statement from the U.S. Border Patrol.  “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General was also notified.”

The ACLU is urging CBP to make the results of those investigations public.

“Certainly, those who were hurt, the eight people that were hospitalized but survived, and the families of the two who were killed, deserve answers,” said Sheff.