In an Arizona case, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, 16, was shot 10 times in the back and head the night of Oct. 10, 2012, by one or more agents firing through the border fence into Nogales, Sonora. Agents said they were assaulted by rock throwers.
The Republic

TUCSON — A 16-year-old Mexican teenager killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent appeared to be on the ground as the agent fired 13 of the 16 shots through the border fence in Nogales, a partial video of the 2012 killing showed Monday. 

Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguezwas lying facedown on the ground and did not appear to be moving as Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz fired two of the three volleys that hit Elena Rodriguez in the upper back, upper arms and head, a video reconstruction by federal prosecutors showed. 

The portions of the video, along with the video reconstruction, were shown for the first time Monday in a U.S. District Court hearing in Tucson. Swartz has pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in the teen’s death.

Swartz’s trial is scheduled to begin in October. Defense attorneys have asked the judge not to permit the video to be shown at trial, arguing the video evidence is unreliable. District Judge Raner C. Collins has not yet ruled.


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The video in question shows Swartz fired 16 times through the fence in three bursts:

  • First, he went to the fence and fired three times from the U.S. side to the Mexican side, where Elena Rodriguez was.
  • Swartz then moved west along the fence and fired 10 shots through the slats in the fence.
  • The agent reloaded and then fired three more times into Mexico.

Violence at the border

It was during the second and third volleys that Elena Rodriguez appeared to be lying on the ground next to a building, barely moving, according to the video shown in court.

A reconstruction of the shooting by expert witness James Tavernetti showed that he believed Elena Rodriguez could have been shot once in the back while standing up, but the remainder of the shots hit him in the head, back and arms while he was still on the ground.

Tavernetti’s video offered several potential scenarios of how Elena Rodriguez was stuck by the 10 bullets, but said the most plausible was that almost all of the bullets hit him while he was lying facedown on the ground.

Prosecutors also showed graphic photos of a deceased Elena Rodriguez taken during his autopsy.

The video viewed Monday was shot from two border cameras operated by the Border Patrol. One was was mounted on a pole near the scene of the shooting, just west of the primary port of entry in Nogales. The other was mounted about 2,500 feet away and east of the port of entry.

The video shown in court melded images from both cameras and showed that two individuals were climbing back into Mexico from theU.S. and got stuck for a period at the top of the fence. Later, two individuals — perhaps the same two people — are seen making six throwing motions, like they were throwing rocks. Seven rocks were found on the U.S. side, the video reconstruction showed.

In the very grainy and dark video, which was shot at night, Elena Rodriguez can be seen walking up to the two individuals on Calle Internacional from a distance away before Swartz starts shooting from the American side.

It is unclear exactly how close Elena Rodriguez got to the individuals throwing the rocks before shots were fired. The other two individuals ran behind the closest building, a doctor’s office, while Elena Rodriguez was hit and went down. 

Elena Rodriguez’s mother, Araceli Rodriguez, held her head down for much of the hearing, either looking at the floor or holding her head in her lap as prosecutors showed detailed three-dimensional images of the crime scene. She left the courtroom with other family members as the video and pictures were shown.


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