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Mexico criticizes fatal San Diego border shooting

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Mexican government officials criticized the U.S. Border Patrol on Thursday for the fatal shooting of one of its citizens in a confrontation in Southern California this week, saying it opposed the use of lethal force in border control operations.

A U.S. border agent shot and killed a Mexican man on Tuesday while on patrol near San Diego, after being pelted with rocks while trying to apprehend a group of suspected illegal border crossers. One of the rocks hit him in the head.

"We firmly reiterate that the use of lethal force in border control operations is unacceptable," Mexico's foreign ministry said in a statement released by the Mexican consulate in San Diego.

"The Government of Mexico expects ... that those responsible be held accountable," it added, saying it would await the results of U.S. investigations into the incident.

The statement cited 21 deaths of Mexican nationals as a result of encounters with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents along the U.S.-Mexico border since 2010.

The man who was killed, 41-year-old Jesus Flores-Cruz, was shot twice by an unnamed Border Patrol agent about 100 yards north of the U.S.-Mexico border, according to San Diego Sheriff's Department Lieutenant Glenn Giannantonio.

According to sheriff's department, the Border Patrol agent encountered Flores-Cruz in a rugged area about 10 miles east of the Pacific Ocean while searching for a group of at least five people suspected of entering the United States illegally.

Flores-Cruz "threw progressively larger rocks down at the agent, with the largest being approximately the size of a basketball," a sheriff's report said. The agent, who was hit at least once, then shot Flores-Cruz. The border patrol agent was treated at a hospital and released.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been criticized in recent years over concerns that agents may have sometimes been too quick to use lethal force. Sixteen members of Congress called for a review of use-of-force incidents and policy in 2012. Last year, the agency said it would train officers to defuse threats.

Flores-Cruz was identified using fingerprints obtained by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in a 1996 arrest in the same area. According to court records, Flores-Cruz and another man were arrested carrying backpacks full of marijuana into the U.S. in 1996. Flores was convicted in state court, served his sentence and was deported, court records indicate.

U.S. Border Patrol Division Chief Kelly Good said he could not discuss the specific incident because it was under investigation. But Good said that Border Patrol agents have been trained and are frequently retrained on how to respond all threats posed by an adversary.

"Rocking incidents such as these pose significant danger to Border Patrol agent lives and have resulted in serious injuries, some so significant that the agents were unable to return to work," Good said.

"Customs and Border Protection law enforcement personnel are trained to use deadly force only in situations where the threat they face is imminent danger to their lives or to the lives of bystanders," Good said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)

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