A video that appears to be from a Texas Department of Public Safety vehicle dash cam shows a state trooper pursuing a red Dodge Charger across the Bridge of the Americas from El Paso to Ciudad Juárez into the customs area of the Mexican port of entry, where the trooper drew his gun at the driver.
Videos on social media of the incident, which occurred around 5 a.m. Saturday, show the trooper pursuing the vehicle with sirens and lights flashing over the bridge into Mexico. The driver of the Charger stopped at the customs area, and the officer drew and pointed his weapon at the suspect while Mexican National Guardsmen looked on. The trooper opened the Charger’s door, grabbed the driver, threw her to the ground and handcuffed her. The videos don’t show exactly what happened next.
But according to reports from El Diario de Juárez, the DPS officer returned to his vehicle, locked himself in, and was detained there by Mexican authorities for about two hours before being allowed to return to El Paso.
U.S. law enforcement agencies generally do not have authority to make arrests on foreign soil, and entering Mexico with a firearm or ammunition is a federal crime in that country, even if it’s unintentional.
DPS officials didn’t return El Paso Matters’ calls or emails seeking comment, but told other media outlets an investigation is ongoing.
Mexican authorities called the incident “involuntary” and does not rise to the level of a crime.
“He crossed involuntarily and wasn’t familiar with the boundaries. He did not notice that it was an international bridge,” Jorge Alberto Buchan Martinez, the commander of the Mexican National Guard garrison in Juárez, said during a Monday press conference in Juárez. “That’s why we understand, and that’s how it was handled, as an involuntary incursion.”
The Interstate 10 connection and off-ramp to the international bridge has several warning signs informing drivers that they are about to enter Mexico and that weapons are prohibited.
The DPS officer had only been stationed in El Paso for one week, Buchan Martinez said.
It’s unclear why the state trooper was pursuing the vehicle, though Buchan Martinez said the officer told Mexican officials the woman in the Charger was suspected of driving under the influence of either drugs or alcohol.
The Mexican National Guard intervened and released the suspect, who has double nationality and did not commit any crime or infraction on Mexican soil, and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Buchan Martinez said. He added that an arrest warrant for speeding has been issued against the woman driver in the United States.
Mexican authorities said they have contacted Eric Cohan, the U.S. Consul General in Ciudad Juárez, to ask that the DPS officer be disciplined accordingly, Buchan Martinez said. The office of the consul general of Mexico in El Paso didn’t return calls for comment.
“It is not the first or last time that this happens. It stems from the close vicinity that exists, (and) evidently the police officer from Texas who entered (our) national territory is ignorant of where the border is and what powers he has,” said Juan Carlos Loera de la Rosa, federal delegate from Chihuahua, in a press conference Monday.
Loera also called the actions of the DPS officer “imprudent” and due to “ignorance,” but said the incident does not rise to the level of a crime or an “invasion.”
“I think the two consuls will have to sit down and talk about what model, what training, is necessary for police,” Loera de la Rosa said.
High-speed chases ‘concerning’
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, in a statement said that although she has no jurisdiction over state matters or purview over DPS, she’s grown troubled over high-speed chases by state troopers in El Paso.
“I’ve been very concerned about the way DPS has engaged in our community, especially the dangerous high speed chases in neighborhoods, near schools and parks,” Escobar said, not commenting directly on Saturday’s incident. “This kind of engagement can and frequently does end in tragedy. When (the Department of Homeland Security) was engaging in unsafe behavior on our streets in a similar manner, I called on them to change their policy, which they did.”
While some local and federal law enforcement agencies have vehicle pursuit policies, Texas DPS gives individual officers the authority to start, continue or abandon pursuits, according to a 2017 policy. The policy states that it’s the officer’s judgment to decide whether to abandon pursuit if “the mission of the Department can no longer be served or when it becomes evident that continued pursuit will bring about unwarranted danger to the public or to the officer.”
It is unclear if the trooper involved in Saturday’s incident is part of Operation Lone Star, the controversial $4 billion border enforcement program by Gov. Greg Abbott that has, among other things, heavily increased the presence of state troopers in border cities, including El Paso. Abbott’s office referred El Paso Matters’ request for comment to DPS.
Not the first time
Saturday’s incident represents a steep departure from both law and practice for similar instances on the border.
In 2021, for example, a New Mexico National Guardsman was detained for 48 hours after walking into Juárez with a handgun. In 2020, an off-duty Border Patrol agent was arrested in Juárez for carrying ammunition in a personal vehicle.
In 2021, Customs and Border Protection agents detained 14 Mexican soldiers who crossed the border while on the Bridge of the Americas. In that case, the soldiers were handcuffed and forced to surrender their weapons while CBP communicated with their military commanders.
Most of the incidents involving U.S. law enforcement or military personnel in Mexico have occurred when those individuals were off duty. In contrast, Saturday’s incident involved an active pursuit across the international bridge.