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Justice Department Civil Rights Division Investigating Arizona Border Patrol Shootings

The investigations could represent a shift in how the administration handles cross-border violence.

Posted on August 24, 2014, at 11:18 p.m. ET

John Stanton

16 year old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was shot by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in 2012 while walking in Nogales, Mexico.

WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division has launched at least two investigations into Customs and Border Protection personnel based in Arizona over shooting deaths, as part of a broader effort to clamp down on violence and allegations of human rights violations.

CBP, and in particular the Tucson Sector in Arizona, use of force against undocumented immigrants and Mexican citizens inside their home country has come under increasing scrutiny over the last year, and the investigations come on the heels of a federal civil lawsuit filed by the family of a 16-year-old Nogales, Mexico, boy who was killed during a cross-border shooting by CBP.

The involvement of Justice Department headquarters could represent a significant shift in how the Obama administration is addressing violence along the border. FBI investigators almost never bring criminal charges against CBP agents and officers, and human rights organizations have accused the administration of turning a blind eye towards the border.

A Department of Justice spokesperson declined to comment. But a law enforcement official familiar with the investigations confirmed personnel from Justice's Civil Rights Division took part in a crime-scene visit last week in Nogales, Mexico, to investigate the 2012 shooting of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez.

According to the Nogales International, which first reported the Nogales visit, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wallace Kleindienst and Karen Rolley and other federal officials joined their Mexican counterparts in the visit to the site of the shooting.

Although Kleindienst and Rolley are veteran prosecutors based in Arizona, the broader investigation into complaints against CBP is being run out of the civil rights division's D.C. office. "In general, when these types of cases come up they are run out of the civil rights division in Washington, D.C.," the law enforcement official explained.