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Associated Press August 14, 1997
This article also appeared in the Houston Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News

Justice Department accused of stonewalling House panel.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The chairman of the House immigration subcommittee accused the Justice Department on Wednesday of "stonewalling" his panel's inquiry into the shooting of a Texas teen-ager by a military team assisting the Border Patrol.

In a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said he and his investigators were thwarted at every turn in their bid to uncover Border Patrol lapses in the May 20 shooting death of Esequiel Hernandez Jr., 18, of Redford,Texas, on the U.S.-Mexican border.

"For two months, my congressional oversight has been obstructed by a never-ending series of useless referrals, unreturned phone calls and broken promises," Smith wrote.

The Justice Department offered no immediate comment. Nor did the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is the Border Patrol's parent agency.

Smith, who will hold a hearing next month on the Hernandez shooting, warned that he will use "more formal methods of congressional investigation" if the Justice Department doesn't meet his demands.

The Border Patrol did provide two briefings to Smith and his staff. But Smith termed them vague and incomplete.

Smith's complaint came the day before a grand jury was to convene a second time in Marfa, Texas, to consider whether the Marine corporal who shot Hernandez should be prosecuted.

Hernandez, who was armed with a .22-caliber rifle, was shot as he tended his goat herd near his family's home.

The military says Hernandez was shot only after he fired on the soldiers. His family and others contend the youth, who sometimes used the rifle for target practice, may not have known he was firing at the Marines, who were in full camouflage. Military operations along the border have been suspended pending review of the shooting.

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This article copyright 1997 Associated Press and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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