The Investigators

Apr 30, 2014 12:03 PM by Lupita Murillo and Michel Marizco

N4T Investigators: Rogue Mexican Army troops crossing the line

SASABE, SONORA - Has a unit of Mexican Army soldiers who patrol right on the Arizona border gone rogue?

This small group has attacked U.S. citizens, and even challenged U.S. federal agents within the U.S. A News 4 Tucson investigation into the dangerous world of rogue soldiers in Mexico's military.

In January, soldiers from this lonely outpost of the Mexican Army drew their guns on U.S. Border Patrol agents just 50 yards into the United States. Then in March, they opened fire on Javier Jose Rodriguez, a young Tucson man visiting family in Sásabe when he was driving around the town early on a Saturday morning after drinking beers with friends. Rodriguez was shot in the arm and in the side, he spent three weeks at University of Arizona Medical Center.

The United States' reaction has been tepid, angering people who live and patrol along the Arizona border.

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) revealed details of the January encounter between soldiers from this base and the Border Patrol. In a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Coburn said a lone agent encountered two Mexican soldiers 50 yards inside the U.S. The agent and the soldiers drew their weapons; the soldiers carried G-3 rifles.

"From what I understand, this has happened hundreds of times before," says Sylvia Longmire, a border security analyst whose recent book, Border Insecurity, details the challenges and failings of some Homeland Security operations along the Arizona-Sonora border. The soldiers told the agent they'd gotten lost while pursuing a drug smuggler.

"However, I believe there was some confusion as to whether that's what the Mexican Army was doing because there was no evidence found by the Border Patrol of any drug smugglers in the area," Longmire said.

Reports obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act show that members of Mexico's Army have crossed into the U.S. at least 300 times over the past 18 years.

On a Tuesday morning, KVOA's Lupita Murillo spoke with the commander of the base. He said the last unit rotated out and that an entirely new unit took its place.

But reports show that across the entire border, soldiers have driven into Texas, landed helicopters in Texas' Rio Grande Valley and encountered Border Patrol agents within the United States.

The injured Rodriguez says he wants justice. His medical bills are now over $43,000. He says he intends to pay those off when he goes back to work. He also thinks it's wrong that these soldiers crossed into Arizona and threatened American federal agents.

"I mean, it's very nerve-wracking," said Art del Cueto, President of the Border Patrol's union in the Tucson Sector, Local 2544. "A lot of these encounters happen in the middle of the night where, you know, the lighting is low and you don't know who you're encountering. You're sitting there and seeing a group of guys coming up to you and they're all carrying long-arms, you don't know what you're encountering."

Sources in the U.S. State Department say they believe Mexico's Attorney General is looking into that March attack. But nobody is investigating why these soldiers cross into Arizona.

Arivaca resident, Ronald Ayers said in 2006, a Mexican Army helicopter in the area crossed the border and landed in the U.S. about 300 yards across the border.

"A helicopter flew very low. Flew around behind the barn, landed and then several men got out all clad in black with masks over their face and body armor, carrying what looked to be full automatic weapons," Ayers recalls. What frustrates him, even now, is that he never heard another word about the incident after he was interviewed by both the FBI and Customs and Border Protection.

Sen. Coburn ordered the Homeland Security Department to produce answers into the Mexican Army incursion by early February. A senior senate aide tells KVOA News 4, as of this week, the agency hasn't responded to the senator's demand.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line, (520) 955-4444.

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