EDINBURG — An Hidalgo County grand jury ruled Tuesday that a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who fatally shot two Guatemalan immigrants last year during a helicopter-assisted pursuit will not face criminal charges.
Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra said Tuesday that grand jurors returned a “no bill” on charges of tampering with a government record and deadly conduct against Trooper Miguel Avila.
In October 2012, Avila fatally shot the two immigrants — who’d entered the country illegally — from a helicopter pursuing a red Ford pickup truck that had several unauthorized immigrants hidden within its bed. DPS said Avila opened fire in an attempt to stop the truck, thinking that drugs — not people — were in the bed. A third unauthorized immigrant was injured.
Guerra said grand jurors were presented with the option of the tampering with a government record charge because DPS’s reports in the investigation “may not have been on the up and up.”
“There were some discrepancies and we had to present them to the grand jury,” he said.
Following the fatal chase, DPS in February changed its policy that allowed troopers to open fire from helicopters on fleeing vehicles — the only one of its kind among law enforcement agencies on the Southwest border. Troopers are now only able to open fire during pursuits when the fleeing vehicle presents an imminent threat to life — not to simply disable the vehicle.
The immigrants killed, Jose Leonardo Coj and Marco Antonio Castro, both illegally crossed into the United States after leaving their hometown of San Martin Jilotepeque, Guatemala.
Following the pursuit, Alba Caceres, consul for Guatemala in McAllen, chastised DPS’s pursuit policy. Attempts to reach her via telephone after business hours Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Avila returned to work as a trooper amid the investigation and as the case was presented before grand jurors, which had been considering charges in the case since July.
The driver of the truck, a 15-year-old boy, had been erroneously deported twice before Border Patrol agents arrested him last month after a chase near Sullivan City.