The US agent who killed a Mexican teen across the border isn't immune from a lawsuit, court rules

An American flag flies along a section of the Mexico border fence in San Diego.

(CNN)On October 10, 2012, shortly before midnight, 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez took a walk.

It was a peaceful walk along the Calle Internacional, which runs parallel to the US-Mexico border. Then, without warning, the bullets came.
And they kept coming, between 14 and 30 of them, all from the Nogales, Arizona, side of the border. About 10 of those bullets hit José, most of them in the back, and killed him.
They came from US Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz, who aimed his pistol at the teen through the border fence.
    The teen's mother, Araceli Rodríguez, sued Swartz for violating her son's constitutional rights. When the agent appealed on the grounds of qualified immunity, the courts were left to decide if the suit should stand.
    A federal appeals court's verdict: The Mexican boy died on Mexican soil. But he still deserved to be constitutionally protected against Swartz's use of deadly force.
    And because of that, the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit held Tuesday, the mother's claim can proceed.
    Swartz said he shot through the fence because he was getting attacked by rock throwers and feared for his life, the Arizona Republic reported. But the court determined the teen wasn't doing anything wrong.
    "He did not throw rocks or engage in any violence or threatening behavior against anyone or anything," according to the court's ruling. "He was just walking down a street in Mexico."

    A plea for qualified immunity

    José's mother sued Swartz for damages, saying he violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments in the killing of her son.
    Swartz challenged the court, claiming he had qualified immunity. This protects public officials from being sued for damages, but they can be sued if they violated a clearly established federal or constitutional right.
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