A DPS Helicopter Sniper Kills Two Men on Border Highway

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First the armored boats with machine guns on the Rio Grande now helicopter snipers. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, seems bent on turning Texas border communities into Iraq.

On Thursday a DPS helicopter sniper-opened fire on a truck on a Texas highway killing two men and injuring a third passenger near La Joya in Hidalgo County, reports the McAllen Monitor. Texas Parks and Wildlife rangers were pursuing the red truck, which they thought contained a drug load and called for back up from a DPS helicopter. It turned out the truck was not carrying drugs but nine Guatemalan nationals and an unidentified driver.

What is especially disturbing about the shooting incident is the testimony from the survivors in the truck. Alba Caceres, the Guatemalan Consul General in McAllen told the Monitor that survivors testified the tarp had flown off the truck exposing the people in the pick up bed so that it was clear to the sniper the truck was transporting people, not drugs.

“I know my people are in the wrong crossing illegally and I know that the government of this country has to protect their border, but to shoot at unarmed humans is beyond me,” Caceres told the Monitor. “I can’t conceive how a police officer fires at unarmed humans. These are people from humble origins that even at first glance do not look like hardened criminals.”

The two deceased men were between ages 20 to 25; one was the father of two, the other the father of three, reports the San Antonio Express-News. Their names were withheld, pending official notification of relatives.

The nine Guatemalans travelling in the truck left the same city together on October 8, Caceres told the Express-News. Each had paid $2,000 to be taken from San Martín Jilotepeque in the state of Chimaltenango, Guatemala through Mexico, and then another $3,000 to be brought to the United States. Most were headed for jobs in New Jersey.

The trooper who shot the men has been put on administrative leave, according to DPS. Lethal force can be used when the officer or someone else is at substantial risk of death or bodily injury, according to agency policy.

A trooper trained to use an AR-10 rifle from the air mans nearly every DPS helicopter, reports the Express-News. DPS Director Steve McCraw told the newspaper the snipers were needed to protect troopers on the ground when patrolling the border.

“That’s what our aerial assets are doing, and we need to protect those aerial assets and in doing so, we put a sniper on those,” he said. “And we’re really not apologetic about it. We’ve got an obligation to protect our men and women when we’re trying to protect Texas.”

I suggest you read both the San Antonio Express-News and Monitor stories to get more details because this shooting incident really is remarkable both for its cruelty and sheer lack of logic.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in our state leadership at the moment who appears sane enough to tell DPS Director McCraw that shooting unarmed people from a helicopter is a bad idea.

Is it just me or have our state leaders turned into the cast for The Expendables? With Attorney General Greg Abbott tweeting to an international election monitoring group last week “BRING IT” and Ag Commissioner Todd Staples advocating for “sanitary tactical zones along the border” and a Governor who shoots coyotes with a laser-sighted pistol who’s really going to put the brakes on McCraw’s transformation into Dr. Strangelove?

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.