FBI: No evidence of homicide in border agent's death cited by Trump


FBI: No evidence of homicide in border agent's death cited by Trump

EL PASO, Texas — A Border Patrol agent whose death last November fueled President Donald Trump's calls for a border wall appears to have died in an accident, according to FBI findings released Wednesday.

Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez, 36, was found dying at the bottom of a roadside culvert along a span of Interstate 10 in West Texas on Nov 18. Within hours, union officials said they believed Martinez had been ambushed by smugglers in a gruesome rock attack.

The agent's death became a political flash point less than a day later when Trump tweeted that Martinez had been "killed" and his assailants would be brought to justice.

But the FBI said it has found no evidence of a homicide, despite mobilizing significant resources to investigate Martinez's death that involved 37 field offices.

"To date, this investigation has not conclusively determined how Agent Martinez and his partner ended up at the bottom of the culvert and no suspects have been linked to this incident," the report said. 

"None of the more than 650 interviews completed, locations searched, or evidence collected and analyzed have produced evidence that would support the existence of a scuffle, altercation, or attack on November 18, 2017," the report added.

An autopsy report released Tuesday by the El Paso County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed Martinez died of blunt injuries to the head, but listed the manner of death as "undetermined."

Another agent, Stephen Garland, was also found injured nearby with serious head injuries and other trauma. Investigators have said he cannot recall details about what happened.

This image distributed by the FBI on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in El Paso, Texas, shows a request for information in the death of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent Rogelio Martinez, who succumbed to traumatic head injuries and broken bones suffered while on duty. The FBI released a statement Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, that the investigation into the November death of Martinez has so far yielded no evidence that there was a "scuffle, altercation or attack" more than two months after President Donald Trump and others used the suggestion of an attack to promote the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. FBI via AP

But the FBI findings include previously undisclosed details about the moments immediately after the agents were injured and Garland radioed for help. 

In his distress call, Garland told the dispatcher: "We ran into a culvert," "I ran into a culvert," or "I think I ran into a culvert," the report said.

In the course of its investigation, the FBI said it identified several individuals in New Mexico with potential ties to the case. They have been charged with offenses involving the "smuggling of an alien," but the agency said they are not suspects in the investigation of Martinez's death.

Dr. Judy Melinek, a San Francisco forensic pathologist who reviewed Martinez's autopsy report at the request of The Washington Post, said the injuries described in the report were more consistent with an accident or fall than an assault.

Melinek stressed that the report contains limited information, and she didn't have access to photos, X-rays and other materials available to the El Paso medical examiner who performed the autopsy.

"He doesn't have injuries on his back and front. He doesn't have injuries on both sides of his body. They are all on the right side and in line with each other. There are also no defensive injuries on the arms or hands," she said. "The absence of defensive injuries and a single plane of injury is more consistent with an accident than a homicide."

Backers of Trump's plans for a border wall have continued to insist Martinez was murdered and challenged others who have cast doubt on the version of the event advanced by union officials.

Chris Cabrera, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, which represents agents, said his union continues to believe Martinez and Garland were attacked.

"We believe it was an assault on our agents and a murder of one of our agents and an attempted murder of another," he said.

"We hope that they take this very seriously and continue to look for those that attacked our agents," Cabrera said of the FBI.

The FBI said it will continue investigating and has extended a cash reward for information leading to a resolution of the case.

  • (c) 2018, The Washington Post
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