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Border Agent Quits Over Shooting

December 14, 1999

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A Border Patrol agent who used a pellet gun to sink a raft carrying three illegal immigrants across the All-American Canal has agreed to quit the agency and won’t face criminal charges.

Gary S. Whitfield, 32, admitted he fired a pellet pistol at the raft in May and tried to cover it up by throwing the gun into the New River, federal officials said Monday.

A witness told authorities that two immigrants swam to safety, but the third did not make it across. No body was found in the canal, which runs along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The shooting happened in the fast-moving, concrete-lined canal that carries Colorado River irrigation water to the arid Imperial Valley. Eighteen immigrants have drowned in the canal so far this year.

Whitfield acknowledged violating Border Patrol policy by shooting at illegals trying to cross the border, but a criminal conviction was unlikely since there was no evidence that anyone was injured, said his attorney, Everett Bobbitt.

``Their chance of conviction, in my opinion, was about zero and they recognize that or they would have prosecuted it,″ Bobbitt said.

However, federal officials said they had evidence that Whitfield had bought the gun the day before the shooting and bragged to other agents that he intended to ``get a raft.″

Amalia Meza, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the government didn’t drop the investigation because ``we found that the actions of the officer were so reckless, we needed to take some action.″

Whitfield, who had been on administrative duty at the Calexico station since the May 14 shooting, resigned Friday. He cannot apply to any law enforcement agency for four years.

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