SAN DIEGO — A U.S. border inspector fatally shot a knife-wielding Mexican man at a California crossing on Wednesday, and an agency official quickly defended his actions.
The Customs and Border Protection officer fired his gun four times around midnight, striking the man in his chest and possibly in his neck at the port of entry in downtown Calexico, about 120 miles east of San Diego and across the border from Mexicali, Mexico, said Pete Flores, the agency's San Diego field office director.
The 35-year-old Mexican, who was not permitted to enter the United States, was on a bicycle in a vehicle inspection lane for "trusted travelers" and appeared as if he wasn't going to stop, Flores said. The man wielded a knife that was about eight inches long after the inspector grabbed his other arm and forced the man to drop his bike.
The man raised his knife and moved toward the inspector, who was backing away when the shots rang, said Flores, who didn't know the precise distance between the two men.
The man was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. The officer, who worked in Calexico since joining Customs and Border Protection in February 2008, was unharmed. Neither name was released.
"At this point it appears that protocol was followed," Flores said. "When we have an individual who is using deadly force, our protocol is not using anything less, to equal that force."
Wednesday evening, Mexico's Foreign Relations Department issued a statement expressing "profound regret" and calling for the incident to be clarified.
"Mexico has signaled, repeatedly, that the use of lethal force in migratory control and border security efforts must be a last resort, in addition to being proportionate to the circumstances of each situation," the department said.
It added that the country's embassy in Washington and consulate in Calexico were following the case closely.
Customs and Border Protection has come under heavy scrutiny from advocacy groups and some law enforcement experts for use of deadly force. The agency includes the Border Patrol, which operates between border crossings, and an office of field operations, which manages Calexico and other ports of entry.
Customs and Border Protection said last week that its employees used firearms 28 times during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 and less lethal weapons — like stun guns, pepper-ball launchers and batons — 740 times. It didn't say how many resulted in death.
The Calexico inspector was put on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure in a fatal shooting, Flores said. Customs and Border Protection, Calexico police and the U.S. Homeland Security Department's inspector general will investigate the incident.
Flores said he didn't know what words were exchanged between the inspector and the Mexican man or what the man's motives were for crossing the border.
Customs and Border Protection captured video of the incident, but Flores said the agency did not plan to release it publicly.