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Tucson, Arizona
Saturday, 28 October 2000

U.S. agents, smugglers in shootout, officials say

By Tim Steller

U.S. Border Patrol agents exchanged gunfire with drug smugglers during an Oct. 20 confrontation, Mexican and American officials said.

Two Palominas-area residents also intervened in the shootout, shining a spotlight on the alleged smugglers and precipitating the gunfire, said a spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff's Department.

A Mexican man reported being shot in the area that night, but denied he was involved in smuggling.

Border Patrol officials did not initially report the incident and kept quiet about it yesterday.

The incident began about 10 p.m. that Friday, when the two area residents saw two men, dressed in black, looking into a wash, said Carol Capas, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Department. Capas did not name the two residents.

A short time later, the men heard two vehicles driving through the wash area, Capas said. They drove their own vehicle toward the sound, she said.

The men saw a pickup truck and sports utility vehicle driving in tandem, Capas said. The vehicles went northbound, then turned around, headed south and topped a rise, she said.

The smugglers unknowingly were driving toward a group of Border Patrol agents.

"The guy who was driving grabbed a spotlight and shined it on the last vehicle," Capas said.

The residents then heard about eight gunshots fired from the spotlighted vehicle toward an undetermined direction, Capas said. The residents turned off their spotlight and waited, she said.

After about 10 minutes, they heard a second set of gunshots, Capas said.

"Border Patrol indicated that a second set of shots were directed toward them," Capas said.

Early the next morning, the Border Patrol informed the Mexican consulate in Douglas, mentioning three vehicles instead of two, deputy consul Roberto Campos said.

"They said that some Border Patrol that was around the Palominas area saw the pickups in the U.S., and when they tried to stop them, the three pickups went back to Mexico," Campos said.

"When they went back to Mexico, someone from these three pickups started to shoot. The Border Patrol agents returned the fire," Campos said.

The agents found two bags of marijuana in the area, Campos added.

Yesterday, Border Patrol spokesman Rob Daniels was under orders not to discuss the incident. The reason, he said, is that the FBI is investigating.

Recently, however, the Border Patrol has frequently provided details of shooting incidents involving agents, despite ongoing FBI investigations.

* On July 24, Daniels reported an agent was shot at by a possible migrant-smuggler west of Douglas.

* On Nov. 23, 1999, Daniels reported when agents shot and killed an apparent marijuana smuggler east of Nogales.

* On Aug. 17, 1998, Daniels told of an agent who shot at rock-throwers in Agua Prieta, Sonora.

All three incidents, as well as others Daniels has reported, received FBI investigations.

Capas said the Sheriff's Department did not investigate beyond responding that evening.