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Houston Chronicle June 15, 1997

Military should not be assigned civilian police functions

Exactly what happened last month near the remote Rio Grande border town of Redford when an 18-year-old high school student was killed by a team of Marines on anti-drug patrol remains a mystery.

What is known is that Ezequiel Hernandez Jr., who was tending goats near his home, is dead -- shot by one of the Marines assigned to a Joint Task Force 6 mission to observe suspected drug routes.

The shooting has frustrated and angered many in Presidio County with its unanswered questions and it wall of military silence. It is an example of the problems inherent in using military personnel in civilian police functions.

The Marines say they shot in self-defense after Hernandez fired twice at them with his .22-caliber rifle and was preparing to fire a third time. But some Texas law enforcement officials say the Marines' story does not comport with the physical evidence. They have accused the Marine Corps of being uncooperative in the investigation.

Details aside, military personnel are not trained to do civilian, police functions. They have been forged to be military people, not law enforcement officers. They are best left to fighting in military engagements, not policing.

Hernandez's family and community citizens say they will take legal action to get the answers they seek and to prevent what has happened from happening again.

But as long as the U.S. government uses military personnel as it used the Marines, such incidents are likely to continue, to the detriment to the Marine Corps' reputation and the endangerment of innocent civilians.

This article copyright 1997 the Houston Chronicle and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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