The Slatest

FBI Investigation Finds No Evidence Border Patrol Officer’s Death Cited by Trump Was Foul Play

A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent drives along Interstate 10 on November 22, 2017 in Van Horn, Texas.
A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent drives along Interstate 10 on November 22, 2017 in Van Horn, Texas.
John Moore/Getty Images

During his time in public life (and private life for that matter), President Trump has shown time and again he doesn’t like to wait around for the facts that might screw up a good story, especially when he’s trying to get tweets up in the air to help make his point. There is no news story Trump won’t twist or misrepresent to fit whatever narrative he’s got stuck in his head. It could be the Electoral College or voter fraud or inauguration crowd size or something Putin-related or troop-related or terrorism-related, but mostly Trump’s cherry-picked reality harps on the instances of violent crime (real and imagined) committed by undocumented immigrants.

One such notable incident was the death of Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez last November. Martinez, who was on-duty at the time, was found dead from blunt-force trauma in a roadside drainage ditch in West Texas 30 miles from the Mexican border. The border patrol union speculated Martinez and his partner were ambushed by cross border smugglers, saying they were attacked with rocks. Trump, who was amidst a legislative push to crack down along the border, citing instances of violent crime, pounced on the case. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz followed up with a tweet of his own.

On Wednesday, nearly three months after Martinez’s death and Trump’s definitive tweet, the FBI announced its investigation had found no evidence that Martinez’s death was the result of foul play, and that it instead appeared to be accidental. “To date 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,” the FBI El Paso Field Office said in a statement.

The exact cause of Martinez’s death remains a mystery. The local sheriff who responded to the scene that night speculated the two men could have been sideswiped along the dark interstate by a tractor-trailer. Martinez’s fiancée has said she doesn’t think cross-border criminals were involved. “(He) was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” she told Reuters. Martinez’s partner was also found badly injured in the drainage ditch nearby, but with injuries to his head, he could not recall what happened the night in question. The partner did make a call to the dispatcher saying: “We ran into a culvert,” “I ran into a culvert” or “I think I ran into a culvert,” according to the FBI report.

Over the past eight years, according to Border Patrol records, 19 agents have died in the line of duty. At least ten of those deaths were the result of accidents on the job, while just one officer has been killed by a suspected smuggler since 2010.

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Elliot Hannon

Elliot Hannon is a writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.