New information obtained from several sources raises questions regarding the claims made by the Texas Department of Public Safety regarding a shootout where U.S. authorities near the Rio Grande came under “heavy fire” Thursday.
Two independent sources from both the U.S. and Mexico said that only six shots from the Mexican side were heard. The rounds hit the ground near the U.S. authorities, raising the question that the incident might not have been that different from any other police-related shooting in the United States.
DPS officials confirmed that the incident occurred shortly after 6 a.m., but wouldn’t disclose the location; other sources placed it south of Abram at 6:23 a.m.
The confrontation took place when Texas Rangers, U.S. Border Patrol and Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens attempted to seize a drug load, DPS spokeswoman Lisa Block said.
Three of the four boats involved in the incident were from TPW who were responding to a call from U.S. Border Patrol and Texas Rangers in order to interdict a narcotics load, TPW spokesman Mike Cox said.
As they arrived, people from the Mexican side began throwing rocks that struck two game wardens, Cox said. The two game wardens were later taken to a local hospital for treatment and subsequently released.
“At that point the officers were in fear for their lives and the shooting began soon after,” he said. “Our wardens did fire shots to defend themselves.”
DPS confirmed at least three were injured as a result, but officials did not disclose how many officers discharged their weapons.
Sources with direct knowledge of the case from both U.S. and Mexico stated that about 20 individuals were moving a load of narcotics back to Mexico in an apparent effort to elude capture. In addition to the rocks, the suspects on the Mexican side fired about six shots presumably from pistols. Upon hearing the shots, U.S. authorities opened fire as well.
When asked about the number of shots fired, Cox said he believes that there were more than six shots fired from the Mexican side but didn’t say how many.
Mexican authorities were notified and reportedly arrived shortly after, said DPS spokeswoman Lisa Block. However, she could not say which Mexican agency responded.
When contacted by The Monitor, Mexican authorities and the Mexican military said they had not been made aware of the shootout.
DPS authorities called the case a shootout between law enforcement and a drug cartel, according to a news release. Block stated that it was the first time that she could recall that a member of their department had come under fire from cartels. A list submitted by DPS denoting alleged incidents of spillover violence states that on June 23, 2010, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Texas Ranger near La Grulla, but it didn’t explode.
DPS’s version of events came under fire after a number of independent sources said the account was exaggerated and not unusual for those guarding the nation’s border.
A source with firsthand knowledge of criminal activity stated that contrary to the case presented by DPS, the shooting was a minor one and the U.S. had overwhelming firepower.
The group involved in the case was a group of burreros — small-time smugglers who are not members of any criminal organization but get paid for each load that they bring over, the source said. Burreros are completely different from estacas — the foot soldiers for criminal organizations who are typically the ones involved in firefights with other organizations or the Mexican military, he said.
The source claims that in the shooting incident, the burreros acted on their own, trying to impair the approaching boats with rocks and then with a small volley of rounds, but when the U.S. side opened fire, they quickly dispersed because of their inferior firepower.
Criminal organizations don’t mind losing a load or two and prefer to do that rather than draw attention to themselves by attacking U.S. authorities.
In the hypothetical scenario that estacas or a legitimate cartel strike team been involved, they would have had equal or superior firepower to the U.S. authorities and could have called for reinforcement from other teams, thus creating a real situation with casualties on both sides.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, issued a statement shortly after DPS announced the shootout in which he called out President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
“Despite the repeated assurances of President Obama and Secretary Napolitano that our border is secure, today’s brazen attack on law enforcement provides further evidence for what Texas already know,” Cornyn said. “Cartel-related violence along our border is real and escalating and the Administration cannot continue to deny it when American lives — particularly those of our law enforcement — are directly in harm’s way.”
In a recent report by the Monitor reporters, Naxiely Lopez and Ildefonso Ortiz, DPS official clarifies information about the shootout near Abram and confirms the previous report. (posted above):
Law enforcement officials involved in Thursday’s shootout with alleged Mexican drug smugglers near Abram backed off their initial statement that officers came under “heavy fire” at the Rio Grande.
Instead, they said that the smugglers shot at least four rounds and threw rocks at U.S. authorities, who fired back with more than 300 bullets, possibly injuring three of the smugglers.
To continue reading this report, please click here.
First Draft: Click here for the Monitor's initial understanding of Thursday's events.