“For too long, the Border Patrol has operated in the shadows and with impunity,” Cynthia Pompa, the advocacy manager of the ACLU of Texas Border Rights Center, said in a statement. “These chases endanger our community, and in this latest tragedy seven people lost their lives, including four El Pasoans. The victims and families of the deceased, as well as the public, deserve an independent, robust and transparent investigation of Border Patrol’s involvement in this tragedy.”
Border Patrol officials said the responsibility for the crash rests with the 18-year-old driver who sped away from Border Patrol agents in Sunland Park after he had picked up a group of people who had crossed the border.
They said agents pursued the Chevrolet Cruze but broke off the chase as the car came into downtown El Paso on Paisano Drive. However, several witnesses said several Border Patrol vehicles were in close proximity to the vehicle when the driver lost control and slammed into a trailer parked outside a building. Seven people in the car were killed and three others injured.
Shaw Drake, an attorney for the ACLU Border Rights Center in El Paso, sent a Texas Public Information Act request to the city of El Paso on July 17. The request seeks public release of video evidence police gathered during the investigation from cameras that captured events before the crash. The ACLU also is seeking police and dispatch audio recordings related to the crash.
“As the Paisano (Drive) location is a busy traffic area, the ACLU has reason to believe that traffic cameras likely captured at least part of the chase and consequent crash,” Drake said in his request.
Linda Corchado of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center is representing one of the survivors of the crash.
“My client tells me he can’t sleep, he’s in severe pain and is haunted by nightmares of the crash,” Corchado said in a statement. “Nevertheless, given his vulnerabilities, he’s been detained by ICE during a pandemic and interviewed four times about the incident by local investigators. The public deserves to know what happened to my client and the Police Department should release all recordings to the public.”
State law gives the city up to 10 business days to provide the requested material or to seek a ruling from the Texas attorney general on whether it can withhold some of all of the material from release. However, El Paso and other local and state governments have invoked a state law that allows for the suspension of some transparency laws, including deadlines, during emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic.
The city could seek to withhold release of documents by claiming they are part of an ongoing police investigation. Drake argues in his request that releasing records won’t interfere with an investigation.
“The public is already aware of the crash and the identity of those killed, so releasing footage of or details about the wreck will not hinder any current investigative efforts. Moreover, the ACLU is not requesting any investigative files or memoranda,” Drake wrote.