Texas state troopers will no longer be permitted to shoot immigrants from helicopters under new rules announced on Thursday.
Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steve McCraw announced the ban in Austin, the Monitorreports. The new rules come nearly four months after Trooper Miguel Avila shot and killed a pair of Guatemalan immigrants hiding under a tarp in a pickup truck during a helicopter chase near La Joya last October. The troopers believed the truck was smuggling drugs; its illicit cargo had, in fact, been undocumented immigrants.
The troopers said they could not see the men under the tarp and that thermal imaging was inconclusive. Alba Caceres, head of the Guatemalan Consulate in McAllen, told CBS News that the two men "were having lots of trouble holding on to that tarp. They (the troopers) must have seen them."
The FBI is investigating the incident.
"I'm convinced that now, from a helicopter platform, that we shouldn't shoot unless being shot at,"McCraw said during testimony before the state House Committee on Appropriations.
McCraw denied that the change in policy has anything to do with last year's fatal shooting.
"This is not a reflection of what happened there," he insisted. "I'm a firm believer they (the troopers) did exactly what they thought they needed to do."
Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra, whose jurisdiction includes La Joya, told the Monitor that he was "glad that they (DPS) have announced the change."
"I'm pleased that (McCraw) is directing DPS in what's best for Texas," he said, adding that he believed the La Joya incident "has to have been a small factor" in the decision to ban helicopter shootings.
Terri Burke, executive director of the Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told the Monitor that she was "thrilled" by the policy change but "disappointed it took this long."
"We hope that this decision is a step, if only a small one, toward ending the culture of violence that pervades enforcement of our border security in Texas," Burke said in a statement.
Burke added that open records requests regarding the shooting incident are being "stonewalled."
"We're not backing down," she said. "We're continuing to press for answers to our questions."