On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether U.S. Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa Jr. can be sued for killing an unarmed Mexican teenager. The shooting occurred in the concrete culvert that separates El Paso, Texas from Juarez, Mexico.
The victim, Sergio Hernandez, 15, was playing a game of dare with three other friends, in which the boys would run and touch the fence separating the U.S. from Mexico, and then run back.
Parents of Hernandez contend that the 4th Amendment bans U.S. law enforcement agents from unreasonable seizures and the unjustified use of deadly force. The court will decide whether provisions of the Amendment stop at the U.S. border or extends to border areas patrolled by U.S. agents.
The shooting, which occurred in 2010, provoked outrage in Mexico and set off a prolonged legal dispute over the reach of the U.S. Constitution.
Mimicking recent police killings of unarmed black men in the U.S., Mesa drew his weapon when the boys ran, and shot the 15-year-old in the head. The next day, the FBI released a statement saying Mesa had acted in self-defense after the boys “began to throw rocks” at him. But cellphone videos of the incident showed the boys were not throwing rocks.
The two were only 60 feet apart, but Mesa was on the U.S. side of the border and the dead teenager was on the Mexican side.
The boys were not trying to sneak into the U.S. , Hernandez’s parents said, added that they chose a spot to play “in plain view” near a busy border crossing.
Last year, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case on the grounds that Hernandez was a Mexican citizen “who was on Mexican soil at the time he was shot.”
The Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to deny the appeal, arguing that Mesa was immune from being sued because he was doing his duty as a sworn law enforcement officer.