June 25, 2020

A pickup truck crashes near downtown El Paso, following a high-speed chase involving Border Patrol. Seven people die. “It is the second fatal crash involving a vehicle fleeing Border Patrol on the same stretch of roadway this year,” reports the El Paso Times.

In a July 20, 2020 complaint about the incident, the ACLU notes:

Wilmer Gomez of Guatemala was one of three survivors in the vehicle and says he remembers being chased by approximately seven Border Patrol vehicles.[20] Other witnesses also recount that Border Patrol vehicles were speeding in pursuit when the crash occurred.[21]

Again, CBP denied engaging in a chase at the time of either two El Paso crashes, despite these witness accounts and internal Border Patrol records that suggest that Border Patrol vehicles were speeding in pursuit at the time of both crashes.[22]

…CBP OPR is also reviewing the incident; however, CBP OPR is limited to reviewing agent conduct and are unlikely to take on the systemic issue implicated here.[32]

The ACLU document makes general observations about CBP’s opaque vehicle pursuit policy:

Border Patrol refuses to release their vehicle pursuit policy, thereby making it impossible to review its compliance with relevant guidelines, legal protections, or police best practices.[3] The high number of injuries and deaths resulting from Border Patrol’s actions suggest either that the policy fails to protect the safety and lives of pursuit subjects or that agents are consistently acting outside the bounds of agency policy. Either way, these issues warrant scrupulous review and investigation by the Inspector General.

Border Patrol agents often engage in high-speed vehicle chases. One study found that from 2015 to 2018 alone, at least 250 people were injured and 22 were killed in a vehicle crash due to such a pursuit.[4] The analysis also found that out of over 500 Border Patrol vehicle pursuits, one in three ended in a crash.[5] Notably, since President Donald Trump assumed office, the number of people injured in Border Patrol pursuit crashes has increased by 42 percent.[6]

…Border Patrol’s actions do not appear to adhere to DOJ guidelines, which suggest that law enforcement agents should balance the danger to the public of the chase itself against the danger to the public of the offender remaining at large when evaluating whether or not to pursue a vehicle.[35] DOJ guidelines state that, “[f]or anyone other than a violent felon, the balance weighs against the high-speed chase.”[36]

…CBP has refused to publicly share its written vehicle pursuit policy [38] despite the DOJ Pursuit Management Task Force’s guidance that, “law enforcement agencies compile and disseminate appropriate pursuit data for their own agencies.”[39] Further, CBP has declined requests for information about their policy from Senator Dianne Feinstein.[40] This lack of accountability is highly alarming, especially given the tragic number of injuries and lives lost.

— Daniel Borunda, “7 die, 3 hurt in car crash fleeing U.S. Border Patrol in Texas” (El Paso: El Paso Times / USA Today, June 25, 2020) <https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2020/06/25/seven-die-three-hurt-in-downtown-el-paso-crash-during-border-patrol-chase/3260583001/>.

— Shaw Drake, “Re: U.S. Border Patrol’s Vehicle Pursuit Policy and the Deadly Pursuit and Crash on June 25, 2020 in El Paso, TX” (El Paso: ACLU Border Rights, July 20, 2020) https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/2021_03_03_aclu_complaint_appendix.pdf.

Footnotes from above:

[20], [21]: René Kladzyk, “Witnesses say Border Patrol chased car moments before it crashed, killing 7,” El Paso Matters, July 1, 2020, available at https://elpasomatters.org/2020/07/01/witnesses-say-border-patrol-chased-car- moments-before-it-crashed-killing-7/.
[22]: Debbie Nathan, “Border Patrol Agent Speaks out about a High-Speed Chase That Ended in a Immigrant’s Death,” The Intercept, February 28, 2020, available at https://theintercept.com/2020/02/28/border-patrol-el-paso- texas-car-chase/.
[32]: Aaron Martinez, “El Paso police reveal details in fatal Downtown crash; group seeks Border Patrol inquiry,”
El Paso Times, June 26, 2020, available at https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/crime/2020/06/26/el-paso-fatal- car-crash-accident-border-patrol-investigation/3265472001/.
[4], [5]: Brittany Mejia, Kavitha Surana and James Queally, “Trapped in a Deadly Chase,” ProPublica, April 4, 2019, available at https://features.propublica.org/border-crashes/death-injuries-in-high-speed-border-patrol-chases/.
[35], [36]: See Kenneth L. Bayless, Robert Osborne and The Aerospace Corporation, “Pursuit Management Task Force Report,” National Institute of Justice, September 1998, available at https://www.justnet.org/pdf/Pursuit-Management-Task-Force-Report.pdf.
[39]: Bayless et al.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit, Weak Oversight

Accountability Status: Under OPR investigation