DPS helicopter (File)
LA JOYA (November 1, 2012)—The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas Thursday demanded an independent investigation of the deaths of two suspected illegal immigrants who were shot by a Texas state trooper from a helicopter.
The ACLU made the demand in a letter to Director Steve McCraw of the Texas Department of Public Safety, released Thursday that said, "If the facts as reported are true, this use of deadly force was illegal and unconstitutional."
A trooper aboard a DPS helicopter fired at the fleeing truck in an effort to disable it on Oct. 25.
Nine Guatemalan immigrants were in the truck, six of whom were hidden under a tarp in the bed.
Three were wounded and two died.
The letter demands an investigation by "an agency that is not under the umbrella of the Texas DPS."
“If the public accounts are correct,” the letter said, “DPS’s use of deadly force against the unarmed passengers of the truck was illegal and unconstitutional.”
“We are also concerned that the actions of the DPS, if accurately described in the news reports of the incident, suggest a troubling disregard for the safety of residents of border communities—the very people DPS officers are sworn to protect,” the letter said.
The DPS, meanwhile, identified the trooper who fired as Miguel Avila and said he has returned to work, but is assigned to administrative duties until the investigation is complete.
The DPS said he fired repeatedly from a helicopter in an effort to shoot out the tires of the truck during a high-speed chase that started when Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens tried to stop the truck on an unpaved road at around 3 p.m. on Oct. 25.
The DPS helicopter joined the pursuit about halfway through the 14-mile chase, the agency said.
“The truck was traveling at a dangerously high rate of speed,” DPS said in a press release Thursday.
“The vehicle appeared to have a typical ‘covered’ drug load in the bed of the truck, based upon numerous similar high speed pursuits that have previously taken place in the area.
The truck was headed toward William J. Clinton Elementary School, Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School and Salinas Elementary at about the same time children are normally released, the DPS said.
The chase stopped about two-and-a-half miles from Clinton Elementary School and Saenz Middle School, DPS said.
“ No people were observed in the bed of the pickup truck until it came to a stop and several people were then observed running from the vehicle,” the DPS said.
“Although it is very tragic that two lives were lost, had the vehicle continued recklessly speeding through the school zone, any number of innocent bystanders or young lives could have been lost or suffered serious bodily injury,” McCraw said Thursday.