A Tucson man who was shot in the head by a U.S. Customs officer while driving into Mexico in 2019 filed a federal civil-rights complaint last week against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Angel Emmanuel Mendivil Perez, a U.S. citizen who turns 23 this month, remains incapacitated from his injury following the shooting two years ago by the still-unnamed officer, according to his Tucson lawyer, Bill Risner.
"He can now walk with a cane," Risner said. "That's a victory."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined comment on the lawsuit. The agency hasn't said much at all about the incident, frustrating Risner and his client. Besides not releasing the officer's name, CBP hasn't said exactly where the incident occurred — a fact that could be crucial in the case.
The incident began at about 7 p.m. on February 7, 2019, in one of the southbound lanes of the DeConcini Crossing port of entry in Nogales, Arizona. Customs officers "alerted" to the small, tan pickup Mendivil Perez was driving, which displayed the license plate of a different vehicle, said a CBP post published on its site a few days later.
As officers questioned Mendivil Perez, "the driver accelerated the vehicle toward Mexico. At this time, the officer discharged his firearm," according to the CBP.
A bullet smashed through the pickup's back window and into Perez's head. The truck made it "a few yards" into Mexico before striking a cement barrier. Mendivil Perez was taken to a Mexican hospital before being flown to Tucson for surgery. He remembers little after picking up groceries he intended to take to his pregnant girlfriend — now his wife — in Nogales, Sonora, Risner said.
The passenger, reported to be a 17-year-old boy, was unharmed. Oddly, Tucson's KOLD-TV and the Arizona Daily Star reported a rumor that Arturo Garino, the mayor of Nogales, had been told that Mendivil Perez may have tried to run over or hit the agent with the pickup before being shot. KOLD's Melissa Egan told viewers in a Facebook video at the time that another city official had given Garino the information. Garino's office didn't respond to a message by Phoenix New Times on Friday. The CBP didn't make that claim, nor did it say in the short online summary that anyone in the pickup had been armed. The office has since released no more details about the case.
The federal complaint filed on February 4 alleges that the unknown CBP officer or Border Patrol agent used deadly force in an unreasonable and excessive manner "without legal justification," adding that "at the time of shooting defendants were not in danger of bodily harm from Mr. Mendivil."
Mendivil Perez's Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights were violated, the complaints says, and he's seeking damages for the violations or, alternatively, damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act, plus attorney's fees. Mendivil Perez couldn't be reached and didn't return a message left through Risner.
The lawyer said one reason for the shooting may simply be that border officers don't think rules apply to them.
"They are assholes. They go to asshole school," he said. He's been crossing the border for 60 years and has a "deep history on this."
Nogales officers are "just pricks," Risner said. "They're insolent. Just fucking pricks."