"RIGHT THIS WRONG"

The U.S. Border Patrol helped aim the gun that killed Esequiel Hernandez Jr. near the Texas-Mexico border. That's the conclusion of a scathing report on the 1997 shooting by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. Smith's 249-page report concluded that the surveillance mission was poorly conceived and hastily planned. The young Marine who killed Hernandez was untrained and misinformed. And there was shockingly little communication between local Border Patrol agents and the Marines ostensibly working under their supervision. "The Marines' unreadiness was compounded by a lack of training and support from the Border Patrol," Smith said in a prepared statement. "For example, the Marines were not told that innocent civilians in this part of the country often carry weapons and are wary of intruders. ... The Marines were not told that their observation post was located near a number of family homes, including the Hernandez home. They were not told that Hernandez regularly brought his goats to the Polvo Crossing area."

Smith accused both the Defense and Justice Departments of obstructing his investigation into Hernandez's death. But Smith, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the Border Patrol, fired his sharpest criticism at the border agents' bosses at Justice.

"To this day, no Justice Department personnel have been held accountable for their negligence or wrongdoing in the Hernandez killing," the Republican representative said. "Attorney General Janet Reno should right this wrong immediately." Smith contrasted Reno's response with that of the Marine Corps, which released its exhaustive investigation into the shooting and disciplined four Marine commanders.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service, parent agency of the Border Patrol, responded in a statement that it "strongly disagrees with any claim that the U.S. Border Patrol was directly responsible for this tragic incident." Two Texas grand juries investigated the shooting, but issued no indictments. The government paid the teen's family $1 million to settle a civil claim. The Pentagon has temporarily suspended armed military patrols on the Southwest border, but could resume them at any time. --Monte Paulsen

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