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Interview Transcript w/ Bobbie McDow on Border Killing from 6/11/2010

Posted on June 18, 2010 by Flashpoints

Dennis Bernstein interviewed Bobbie McDow on last Monday, on June 11th, 2010, about what she saw as an eye-witness to the killing by a border patrol agent of 14 year old Mexican national Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereka.

This is the transcript of that interview.

Dennis Bernstein (DB): We go back to the story of the shooting last Monday, that was June 7th, in which a 14 year old was shot in the head and killed by a border patrol agent at the El Paso connection with Juarez, Mexico. A bridge that sees a lot of activity over the Rio Grande river, as people come back and forth to live their lives, either through the fence or over the bridge. Joining us is Bobbie McDow. She was an eye-witness to the shooting last Monday, and Ms. McDow it is good to have you with us on Flashpoints.

Bobbie McDow (BM): Thank you for having me.

DB: It’s our pleasure. First of all, maybe you can set the scene. Where were you? Were you heading towards Mexico, and where were you on the bridge as the scene began to unfold?

BM: Yes, I was headed into Mexico. I was walking up the Santa Fe International Bridge, and I had stopped at the top of the bridge because it was quite hot. My husband was waiting for me, and I said “let’s rest here for a second.” When I was there, looking towards the west, I looked down, and there was a group of teenagers below me. They were on the cement apron of the Rio Grande river, and I said to my husband “let’s watch them”, because I knew that they were getting ready to cross over.

DB: As you watched, what did you see from you vantage point in the middle of the bridge? What exactly did you see happening?

BM: There was approximately 6 young men, and it looked to me that there was four of them that went through the fence at the Apron, and two of them stayed behind. I think that they were perhaps the coaches. Four of them proceeded onto the gravel road that runs adjacent to the river, and they headed west, and then they turned a little to the north and went across another fence. A little further down, there was one more fence that they crossed over, and then they were into the city of El Paso, into, I think it’s Chihuahua Street. And just as they dropped into the street there, it’s a dead-end, one of the border patrol agents was alerted—I don’t know by who—and he had driven into that street, which was a dead end, and was blocking them, so they started immediately retracing their path. They started running back, hopping the fence, hopping the next fence. One of them stumbled after the second fence, and I think he stumbled twice. At that point, they were coming back towards the third and final fence to go back through to get on the cement apron.

DB: On their way back to Mexico?

BM: Yes, they were clearly on their way back to Mexico.

DB: A few feet away from Mexico?

BM: Yes, they were clearly retreating. One of them was apprehended by the border patrol on the gravel road right next to the river, but there’s a fence there. And then, at that point, they started crawling back through the hole in the fence that they had originally gone through. The people that were coaching them were there. And then I saw one of the border patrol agents on a bicycle riding from the west, riding east, and he was by himself. At that point he apprehended one of the young men coming down from the fence and the rest of them appeared to go into the riverbed, but there were a few that seemed to be… at least one of them was due west of the border patrol agent.

DB: The agent had his gun drawn. Describe the situation. You called it sort of a precarious situation, the way in which the border patrol agent sort of had one kid by the neck or the collar, and he was wielding the gun. Could you describe what that looked like and why that made you nervous?

BM: He did grab ahold of the one young man at the same time that he had his weapon drawn. It seemed like he had his hands full. He had a person in his left hand who was not actually handcuffed, and he had his weapon in his right hand, and I thought that it was very dicey that he had both of those things going on at the same time. I thought it could go bad.

BM: Well, I did see someone to the west, I believe they had a white shirt on. I do remember them making a motion, that they were throwing something. I didn’t see anything, but I was on the bridge—the bridge is up pretty high—and I saw no motion by the border patrol agent, as if he had been hit by anything… I was kind of concerned about the situation, but then when he started firing his weapon towards Mexico I became really, really concerned. And I was still watching him trying to contain the person in his other hand, and he’s firing. Then the firing stopped. I think there was four or five shots, but I don’t know for sure—there was a lot of echoing because of the cement around the bridge. After the firing stopped, I looked to the left and I couldn’t see right away because there’s a shadow because of the sun. I saw that there was a body lying there, and then I became really upset that actually there was someone. And the body wasn’t moving. I did ask my husband, I said “is that a body there?” and he said “yes”.

DB: And your husband saw all this as well?

BM: Yes, he was standing right next to me. We were both right next to each other.

DB: And when you talked about it, after you both essentially saw the same thing… The body of that 14 year old Jr High School student from Juarez—did you see him throwing any stones?

BM: I did not, but I have to tell you that I couldn’t keep my eyes on everyone because people were scattering. I was concentrating mainly on the border patrol agent because he was the one with the weapon, and he also had another person in his hand, and I thought that was a very, like I said, precarious situation. But I do recall that there were people that moved to the south, across the riverbed, but I couldn’t keep my eyes on everyone at the same time.

DB: As far as you could see from your vantage point, the young man that was shot in the head and killed was not throwing stones, and was he sitting down?

BM: No, I believe that everyone had crossed over, so probably they were moving. But like I said, there were people to the… west, that were directly under the bridge, and then people that had moved south, and they weren’t under the bridge. As I said, I was mainly concentrating on watching the border patrol agent with his weapon and when he started firing I kept watching him because the person he was restraining, he kept, you know, moving him around while he was firing the weapon, and I just couldn’t believe that this was happening.

DB: You said that these young men seemed to be heading back to Mexico. Are you sure that the agent was shooting at them while they headed back to Mexico and in fact shot at them after they were on the Mexican side.

BM: You have to understand, once you’re down at the riverbed, they call it the concrete apron—it’s just the banks. They’ve paved the banks with concrete, and in the center is a river but it’s dry at this time of year, so it’s just dirt. Everything is just within feet. There’s an imaginary line that goes down the middle of the river, and that’s the boundary between the United States and Mexico. Where he was, on the cement when he was firing, was probably 20 feet at the most from the international boundary of Mexico. So yes, he was clearly firing into Mexico.

DB: And this young man was killed in Mexico.

BM: Yes he was. His body was found beneath, they call it the Puente Negro, the Black Bridge, the railroad bridge, and he was on the Mexican side.

DB: Did that seem an over-reaction to you? They seemed to be heading back to Mexico. Was this armed border patrol agent, was he in danger? The initial report from the FBI is that he was surrounded by the stone throwers and he had no choice but to open fire.

BM: I wouldn’t describe that from what I saw. Perhaps that’s his perspective, but I didn’t feel that his life was in eminent danger.

DB: In terms of shooting at them as they’re heading back to Mexico, was that surprising to you?

BM: I was. I was really surprised that he was on the cement apron to begin with, because there’s a clear fence, a metal fence, that the other agents were on the other side of in their trucks, and they couldn’t reach this other border patrol agent because of the fence. Normally you would not see anyone down there. Once they’re through the fence, pretty much they leave them alone, the border patrol agents is who I’m speaking of.

DB: But this agent, who was alone, was holding onto one young man. There was another yougn man based on the video tape that stayed near the agent, and then several people had run back across the border. Apparently one of them was this 14 year Jr High School student who ended up being shot dead. Even as your words were being circulated as an eye-witness account, Fox News was reporting that this Jr High School student was actually on a most wanted list of teen smugglers, that he was a repeat offender, and that this was a very dangerous young smuggler. It sounds like they were demonizing the kid. What’s your impression of that kind of report? Have the local papers taken the side of the border patrol? Are they fair about their interpretation of what happened?

BM: I did read that account through Fox News and the local Fox News as well. I was concerned that they were portraying him as someone… supposedly this is a confidential record because he’s a minor, but they had already leaked it to the press even though it’s confidential. I wasn’t even sure how they could identify this person with their records because he died on the other side. I wasn’t even sure how they could identify this person with their records because he died on the other side. I wasn’t sure how they could make a positive identification of someone who died on the other side of the border, but I did feel like they were trying to disparage the victim, and I find that concerning.

DB: Living there at the border, either on one side or the other, people are going back and forth all the time. I’m thinking, and friends of mine who work at the border, think, if you’re a hardened smuggler, you’re not going to be coming through a fence under the international bridge, right?

BM: You wouldn’t think so. I’m not familiar with exactly what they’re doing down there. I can only tell you that I’ve observed on many occasions the exact same situation happening. That’s why I said to my husband “let’s watch”, because basically they see if they can get across. Usually they never make it. The border patrol are right there and they come and get them, but I’ve never seen this situation escalate, where a border patrol agent came down into the riverbank and grabbed ahold of one of the persons that had been crossing over illegally, and then pulled his weapon out and started firing. This was a completely new situation.

DB: Do the teenagers and young folks there, sort of, play this game? You referred to it as a ‘cat-and-mouse’ game. Is this sort of part of just the general fair of being a little angry at the border, the border patrol, I guess the militarization of the border?

BM: I can’t say what their mindset is, but when they’re doing it, like I said, the border patrol are right there, and its very difficult to get past them. It’s a very heavily patrolled area. There’s people everywhere. To me, they’re thinking ‘well, can we get across.’ It’s not that they even will, but maybe they can, and they’re gonna try. To me it’s like kids that are looking for some excitement.

DB: Have you seen these incidents increase with the increased militarization at the border?

BM: I can’t tell you that I have. I do cross the bridge almost everyday, but I can’t tell you that there are more incidents than there have been.

DB: Obviously this was not a pleasant experience for you, seeing a young man being killed before your eyes. What do you think is important to know about this incident? What details would you like to tell the public that perhaps aren’t getting out in your local paper or around the country?

BM: I feel that there is a very anti-Mexican mentality, and I’m not sure why, because Mexico is our neighbor, and they’re a helpful neighbor. They provide a lot of the products that we provide everyday, and they’re people. I don’t agree with what those young men did necessarily, but I don’t believe that they should be made out to be less than human.

DB: I know you have a bit of background yourself, I think you have a degree as a paralegal, and you think a lot about the law. What kind of investigation would you like to see? How would you like to see this investigation so perhaps it doesn’t happen again?

BM: I would like to see more restraint on the side of the officer. As I said, once they started going through the fence and they were clearly within a few feet of the Mexican border, [the border patrol should] let them go. I’m not sure what the point of having that confrontation was. I mean, they were clearly on their way back, and if they were juveniles and they were apprehended they would be released anyway. But I would like to know if there are any other videos so we can get a clearer perspective. Unfortunately the cell phone video isn’t quite clear about the persons that were south of the border, and what was going on there. I would absolutely like to know what was happening. I would like to know everything.

DB: I guess we would know a lot less if there wasn’t a cell phone video. Your eye-witness account would have been matched up against the border patrol and the FBI, who immediately adopeted the border patrol story, and of course Fox News. So it would have been you, Bobbie McDow, against Fox News, the FBI and the border patrol. You probably would have lost.

BM: Most likely I would have. I’m so grateful that someone had the mind to go ahead and take that video. It’s very difficult to video because there’s fence all along that bridge, and so you have to fit your camera through the little holes in the wire, and then every time you turn it, it’s going to block your vision, so that’s why the video appears to be so crude, because the conditions aren’t as good as they could be. I’m all for knowing exactly what happened. I have to tell you though, after the incident, I was standing there after I realized someone was dead, and I was telling my husband that we have to do something, and I’m thinking ‘well, that’s law enforcement. Who do we call?’ But I decided I’d call 911, the El Paso police department, and while I was calling the El Paso Police Department, the security guards on the bridge, there’s a private security company that’s hired by Federal Protective Services, one of the guards came up to me and started screaming in my face to get off the bridge, and there were a lot of people on the bridge at that point—a lot of Mexican people returning back to Mexico. Most of them left, and I told the officer I wasn’t leaving, that I had to report the incident, that it is very serious, and I had to report this. I was on the phone with 911 for about 6 minutes, and the security guard kept trying to intimidate me to get off of the bridge and go into Mexico. Eventually I think he realized that the call was being recorded, because it’s 911. A few minutes later, the Custom and Border Patrol [CBP] agents came up, about 20 of them, and surrounded me and told me to get off the bridge, and I said ‘I’m making this 911 call, and after I finish with it I’m going to decide whether I’m going back to Mexico or going back into Texas, to the United States’. But I really felt that there was an effort on their part to make sure that everybody that was witnessing the event was dispersed off the bridge.

DB: I guess there were a number of people on the bridge, right?

BM: There were dozens and dozens of people.

DB: There were dozens and dozens, so that’s potentially dozens and dozens of eye-witnesses, and you’re saying that the border patrol and the private security attempted to disperse the eye-witnesses instead of taking their testimony?

BM: They didn’t attempt, they did. It started with the private security guards, and then the custom border patrol in blue uniforms came up to the bridge. It was very intimidating, I have to tell you, to have that many officers with weapons telling me that I needed to leave the bridge.

DB: So you were talking with 911 as these officers surrounded you?

BM: Yes.

DB: And did you continue your call with 911? What were you telling 911?

BM: At the time, I’m trying to tell them what I’ve just seen, and at the same time, they’re trying to distract me from the call and make me leave. So it was quite a predicament to maintain a 911 call while I’m being told by other officers that I need to leave the area. Like I said, the first officer was screaming inches from my face to get off the bridge and to leave.

DB: So they were knowingly interrupting your call. Did you say you were speaking with 911?

BM: I did. I did tell them I was calling 911. Now, no one took my phone away from me, but the first officer was really loud, and finally, like I said he realized that 911 calls are taped, so he decided to contain himself. But then, within just a minute or two, about 20 CBP guys came up to the top of the bridge as well. You know, one step and you’re in Mexico, even though [you take] one step and you’re in the United States. I’m not sure where I was standing exactly, I guess I was on the American side, so I should have backed up one step and told them to go away, but I was trying to make the 911 call and tell the dispatcher what had happened.

DB: To be clear, just so I understand what you’re saying, there were other potential witnesses who were in a position where they could have seen what happened below the bridge on the Rio Grande? That they could have had a number of testimonies of eye-witness accounts, but they didn’t attempt to take names and interview, but instead they dispersed and pushed people away? Did you ask them why, or did you ask them if they’d like your eye-witness account? What was your dialogue with them?

BM: They wanted me to leave. \Either I had to go into Mexico or gao back into the United States. That’s all they were concerned with, is that I move one way or the other.

DB: and they didn’t gather eye-witness accounts?

BM: No, they did not.

DB: Neither the private security, or the border patrol or the local police?

BM: Well, the local police did meet with me down on the American side, but from what they told me when I did eventually meet with them—it took almost an hour and a half to speak to me, they told me that they didn’t have jurisdiction there, and I’m thinking that that’s why they didn’t come to the bridge. But I’m not sure. I haven’t really had much information come from law enforcement in my direction.

DB: As I said, the FBI reported immediately after the incident that this may have been an alien smuggler, and they essentially repeated the border patrol story about their agents being surrounded by stone-throwing smugglers, that they were in danger, so they opened fire. Did they FBI contact you since to get your story?

BM: Well, this is what happened when the El Paso police department did show up. It took at least an hour, I believe longer. They informed me, that is, three patrol officers or three cars of patrol officers, informed me that they had no jurisdiction, that I needed to contact the FBI. So I asked the officer for the FBI’s number and he got it for me, and I called the FBI. They eventually came out and took my statement.

DB: When was this? Was this a couple hours after the shooting.

BM: Yeah, I don’t think I saw the FBI agent until 9:30 or quarter to 10.

DB: 9:30, quarter to 10, and this happened at around a quarter to 7.

BM: Exactly.

DB: So, about 2, or two and a half hours before you spoke with the FBI. But you did speak to them somewhere between 9:30 and 10 o’clock on Monday night?

BM: Right, about three hours after the incident.

DB: And you told them exactly what you saw?

BM: Yes, to the best of my ability and recollection.

DB: Did they seem interested?

BM: They were very professional. It was a man and a woman, and they took my statements. The woman wrote it down. They were very pleasant, and I haven’t heard a word since.

DB: Were you surprised? My FBI quote came from the following day in which they were still essentially regurgitating the border patrol agent’s point of view. But by the next day they had already had your statement?

BM: They did.

DB: Do you know if they had other eye-witness accounts?

BM: I do not.

DB: Have you spoken to any of the other eye-witnesses?

BM: I have not. I’m not sure who they were, because there’s people going back and forth across the bridge all day long, and its not like we all know one another, we’re just people moving back and forth across the bridge. Except for my husband, who was there as well. I have spoken with him.

DB: Was he horrified?

BM: He’s pretty upset, I have to tell you. He’s from Mexico, he’s a Mexican national. Imagine if the Mexican police had fired over into our country and killed one of our citizens. We would be outraged.

DB: I guess it’s pretty dangerous for both of you to talk about this in public.

BM: I don’t know if its dangerous. I wouldn’t call it dangerous, but I do want people to know that I know there is more than just the border patrol’s version of what happened.

DB: And they could even put out a call to anybody who was on the bridge that day, for anyone who saw information to please come forward and help us get to the bottom of this in a clean and clear independent investigation.

BM: One of the CPB guys, he was telling my husband while they were trying to get us to leave the bridge, that they have video cameras everywhere, so if that is true, and there is video, we should get to see that, and see what exactly happened. It’s not the officer’s word and my word, it’s the camera’s word.

DB: And I guess the FBI probably has the privilege to take all of those cameras and take a look.

BM: I would think so.

DB: That’s the voice of Bobbie McDow, eye-witness to a terrible incident last Monday on the bridge that links Juarez to the United States at El Paso. A shooting underneath—border patrol did kill a 14 year old by shooting him in the head, and there’s obviously a lot more to this story than we’ve heard so far. I want to thank you so much for spending this time, Bobbie McDow, and giving us your point of view, your experience, and your eye-witness account.

BM: You’re welcome.

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