Sheriff Says Texas Border Patrol Agent Death May Have Been an Accident, Not Assault

click to enlarge Sheriff Says Texas Border Patrol Agent Death May Have Been an Accident, Not Assault

More than a week after a U.S. Border Patrol agent died and a second agent was injured while patrolling near the small West Texas town of Van Horn, details surrounding the incident remain mostly unknown. But as GOP politicians were quick to claim it was an "attack" likely committed by undocumented immigrants, investigators have yet to determine what actually happened— and one law enforcement official is suggesting it may have been a tragic accident.

“If this was an assault, believe me, as sheriff, I’d be the first one out here emphasizing safety in our community and with our deputies pairing them up,” Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Castillo told the Dallas Morning News on Wednesday afternoon. “But from what I know and see, that was not the case here.”

On Nov. 19, 36-year-old Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez, died as a result of injuries “sustained while on patrol in the Big Bend Sector,” according to Customs and Border Protection. His partner, whose name has not been released, was also hurt in the incident, and was hospitalized with severe head injuries.

Castillo, who was one of the first people at the scene of this incident, told the Dallas Morning News he suspected a tractor trailer may have sideswiped the officers, resulting in their fall down a 14-foot culvert, where they were eventually found.

But despite little information on the incident, Republican lawmakers drew their own conclusions.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott called it an “attack” via Twitter, saying “resources must be increased to prevent attacks like these in the future.” Abbott offered a $20,000 reward for anyone who came forward with information about the agent’s death. In a similar vein, Texas Senator Ted Cruz released a statement, calling the incident a “stark reminder of the ongoing threat that an unsecure border poses to the safety of our communities and those charged with defending them.”

President Donald Trump, meanwhile used the incident to push for the construction of a border wall, tweeting “Border Patrol Officer killed at Southern Border, another badly hurt. We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible. We will, and must, build the Wall!”

The “attack” narrative stemmed from Breitbart, a right-wing website, which published an article quoting Border Patrol Agent Brandon Judd, who heads heads the National Border Patrol Council, a Border Patrol agent union. In the article, Judd said the agents appeared to have been “ambushed by a group of illegal aliens whom he was tracking,” and that “reports from the ground say [Martinez] was struck in the head multiple times with a rock or rocks.”

But Judd’s statement hasn’t been confirmed by any official agencies. The official website of NBPC does not refer to the incident as an attack, instead writing “the cause of this tragedy is not being reported as this situation is unfolding and an active investigation is underway.”

The FBI continues to investigate what happened, and is offering a $25,000 reward for information. So far, the FBI has said the two agents suffered traumatic head injuries, along with broken bones and minor wounds, but no firearms were used. Martinez’s partner has memory loss. And while the FBI is looking into the incident as a “potential assault,” they haven’t determined anything yet.

FBI spokeswoman Jeanette Harper told the Dallas Morning News the investigation could take weeks or months to complete — and they’re not ruling out any scenarios.