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Dallas Morning News August 30, 1997

FBI upgrades probe into border shooting
Full civil righ ts investigation planned in Marine's slaying of teen, agent says

By Douglas Holt / The Dallas Morning News

EL PASO - The FBI has been given "carte blanche" to pursue a civil rights investigation into the shooting of an 18-year-old shepherd on the border by a Marine on a drug surveillance mission, an FBI official said Friday.

After receiving the FBI's preliminary investigation of the May 20 death of Esequiel "Zeke" Hernandez, Department of Justice lawyers in Washington told the FBI this week to upgrade its inquiry into a "full-field" investigation, said Terry Kincaid, the FBI resident agent-in-charge in Midland.

"The Department of Justice obviously felt this situation called for quite a bit more detail," Agent Kincaid said. "We will pretty much look at everything and leave no rock unturned associated with the case. It will be a very detailed and complex undertaking."

Agent Kincaid, who is heading the investigation, declined to estimate how long the inquiry would take. The number of FBI agents assigned to the task has not been determined, but he said he was given "pretty much carte blanche" for "as many as I need."

"If the investigation indicates that there was a violation of civil rights associated with this case, we intend to find it," he said.

In addition to the ongoing Justice Department investigation, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, plans to hold congressional hearings on the shooting next month.

Military troops have been used since 1989 to conduct covert surveillance missions of drug trafficking routes. The Marines involved in the Hernandez shooting were dressed in heavy camouflage and were acting under the direction of the U.S. Border Patrol.

The four Marines who were on patrol have told authorities that Mr. Hernandez was shot after he had fired two shots and was preparing to fire a third, placing them in "imminent danger."

Mr. Hernandez's death angered residents of the tiny Big Bend-area community of Redford, where he was shot while tending his family's goats, and sparked protests from El Paso to Washington.

On Aug. 14, a Presidio County grand jury - which included a Border Patrol supervisor on duty the night of the shooting, a retired Border Patrol agent and an active agent's wife - declined to issue criminal charges against the Marine who shot Mr. Hernandez, Cpl. Clemente Banuelos.

Jack Zimmermann, a lawyer representing Cpl. Banuelos, said he welcomed the investigation because "the shooting was justified." "A grand jury found no probable cause, and the Justice Department will find no problem," he said.

The Pentagon has ordered a temporary pullout of ground troops deployed on U.S. soil pending a policy review.

This article copyright 1997 the Dallas Morning News and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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