Court closes courthouse door on slain Mexican teen's family

Cheryl Sanders
February 27, 2020

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a U.S. Border Patrol agent can not be held liable for the shooting of a Mexican teenager, with the conservative majority overruling the liberal minority in a 5-4 decision.

The ruling was a defeat for the parents of Sergio Hernandez Guereca, who was on the Mexico side when he was killed in 2010 by a Border Patrol agent who fired from the us side of the boundary separating El Paso, Texas, from Juarez, Mexico.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court that the case is tragic, but that strong border security and global relations issues led to the ruling against the teen's parents.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in dissent, said the agent admitted he didn't know whether the boy was in the US or Mexico at the time of the shooting and said he violated his "instructions" in firing. Over the years, the courts have made it harder to bring claims, known as Bivens actions after the name of the high court case. "It scarcely makes sense for a remedy trained on deterring rogue officer conduct to turn upon a happenstance subsequent to the conduct - a bullet landing in one half of a culvert, not the other", Ginsburg wrote. Mesa was on USA soil in Texas when he fired the fatal shot.

"I resist the conclusion that "nothing" is the answer required in this case", she wrote.

The court, with the five conservative justices in the majority, refused to allow people who are not in the USA at the time of a cross-border incident to file civil rights lawsuits in federal court.

Justice Ginsberg penned a dissent, joined by Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer.

Alito noted that the Justice Department and the parents disagreed about the sequence of events that led to Sergio's death.

The lawyers for Hernandez's family disputed that account, saying he was playing a game in which a group of teenagers would run across the culvert from the Mexican side and touch the USA border fence before running back. Mesa rode up on a bicycle, took Sergio's friend into custody, then fired across the border.

The Justice Department said Mesa was trying to stop "smugglers attempting an illegal border crossing" and fired his gun after he came under a barrage of rocks. Alito and the court's four remaining conservative justices held that Mesa could not be liable for shooting someone who was not in the United States at the time of the incident due to "national security implications". Video footage of the incident seems to dispute that.

Prosecutors in Mexico charged Mesa with murder, but the US refused extradition leading the teen's parents to sue in USA federal court. When the parents of the boy tried to sue Mesa, federal judges dismissed their claims.

"The gravity of this ruling could not be clearer given the Trump administration's militarised rhetoric and policies targeting people at the border", said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the Rodriguez family. Hernandez was in a culvert located right on the border, just on the Mexican side.

"To avoid upsetting the delicate web of worldwide relations, we typically presume that even congressionally crafted causes of action do not apply outside our borders", the opinion said.

The court also pointed to Congress' history of not awarding damages in cases against federal officials where the injuries took place outside the U.S. While Mesa was on American soil at the time, Hernández was on the Mexican side of the border when Mesa shot him.

Other reports by iNewsToday