New Trial For Acquitted Border Patrol Agent Gets Underway
In his first trial last spring, a jury found Lonnie Swartz not guilty of second-degree murder, but it was conflicted on whether he committed manslaughter. Now the U.S. government is trying him on manslaughter.
Assistant U.S. attorney Wallace Kleindienst told the jury Swartz was fed up with rocks being thrown over the border fence and that was why he placed his gun between the bars of the border fence, shot 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, then reloaded and shot him again — a total of 16 times. He described Swartz as an expert marksman in the Border Patrol who had a high ground advantage over rock throwers standing in Mexico.
"He ran out of ammunition, he fired so many times. He's not done. He doesn't stop shooting. He doesn't holster his weapon," Kleindienst said. Instead, he said Swartz ran 45 feet in eight seconds to a second spot and shot at the teen again who already was down on the ground.
"This case is not about illegal immigration, it's not about the wall ... there was no justification," for the shooting, Kleindienst said.
Swartz sat expressionless beside his lawyers.
Attorney Sean Chapman told the jury the teenager was helping two drug smugglers by hurling rocks over the fence and said Swartz felt he and other law enforcement officers’ lives were in danger and had only seconds to react.
"The decision whether to use deadly force is not viewed from the calm vantage point of hindsight," Chapman said. He said Swartz changed position and reloaded to continue firing because he thought there was a second rock thrower. He also described a chaotic, poorly lit scenario and played dispatcher recordings of officers yelling that they had found bundles of marijuana.
He described marijuana traffickers as ruthless, desperate criminals who will use rocks to assault agents if it helps them escape capture. And he said the Border Patrol's use of force policy allows for an agent to use deadly force in the kind of situation Swartz was in.
"He was fed up?" he countered. After shooting, Swartz vomited, he said. "He wasn't celebrating, he'd just shot someone. He did what he had to do."
Swartz killed Elena Rodriguez in October 2012. Swartz was indicted in 2015.