By Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 07/29/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT
EL PASO -- A federal magistrate judge has ruled that the U.S. Border Patrol was not negligent in the 2003 fatal shooting of 19-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant Juan Patricio Peraza near Downtown El Paso.
Peraza's parents, Cesar Peraza Barraza and ex-wife Ramona Irene Quijada Soto, sued the federal government seeking unspecified damages claiming the death of their son was unjustified.
"While the shooting death of Juan Patricio Peraza is tragic and regrettable, it was not the result of negligence," stated the ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard P. Mesa filed Thursday in favor of the U.S. government.
On Feb. 22, 2003, Peraza was shot and killed by Border Patrol Agent Vernon Billings while Peraza was wielding a 5-foot pipe in a confrontation with agents near Annunciation House, a Downtown shelter for immigrants.
Peraza's death drew criticism from community and religious leaders.
Mesa determined that Peraza had ample opportunity to surrender and that Billings, who believed he was in danger, was justified in using deadly force.
Annunciation House officials, who could not be reached for comment Monday evening, have scheduled a news conference Tuesday to respond to the ruling and to ask for an evaluation of the investigation procedures in such deaths.
Testimony during the civil trial revealed that, unlike similar investigations, Border Patrol agents involved in the Peraza incident were taken away to their headquarters and had representatives with them when interviewed by El Paso police homicide detectives.
An El Paso grand jury declined to indict Billings in 2003.
In his ruling, Mesa criticized the Border Patrol and stated that "the shortcomings of the investigation are not inconsequential and do not create confidence in BP (Border Patrol) management's policy decisions ...
"In short, the failure to investigate properly did not cause Peraza's death and does not rise to the level of misconduct that would cause the Court to alter its credibility determinations."
Daniel Borunda may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org;546-6102.