PHOENIX (AP) — The family of a slain Border Patrol agent has sued federal officials over the botched “Fast and Furious” gun operation, claiming they should have known it created a risk to law enforcement authorities.
Agent Brian Terry was mortally wounded on Dec. 14, 2010, in a firefight north of the Arizona-Mexico border between U.S. agents and five men who had sneaked into the country to rob marijuana smugglers.
The case was filed Thursday, one day short of the two-year anniversary of Terry’s death and a deadline for filing a wrongful death claim in federal court.
Federal authorities who conducted “Fast and Furious” have faced tough criticism for allowing suspected straw gun buyers for a smuggling ring to walk away from gun shops in Arizona with weapons, rather than arrest them and seize the guns.
The lawsuit made publicly available on Friday was filed by Terry’s parents against six managers and investigators for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The family also sued a federal prosecutor who had previously handled the case but is no longer on it, and the owner of the gun store where two rifles found in the aftermath of the firefight were bought.
The family alleges the ATF officials and federal prosecutor created a risk to law enforcement officers such as Terry, and that the firearms agents should have known their actions would lead to injuries and deaths to civilians and police officers in America and Mexico.
The family also alleged that firearms agents and the prosecutor sought to cover up the link between Terry’s death and the botched “Fast and Furious” investigation.
ATF spokesman Tom Mangan declined to comment on the lawsuit. William Newell, the former head of the ATF in Arizona at the time the investigation was conducted, and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment late Friday afternoon.
The lawsuit said Lone Wolf Trading Co., a Glendale gun store where the two guns found at the shootout scene were bought, should have known that certain people who bought guns in the store were straw gun buyers for Mexican drug cartels.
Larry Gaydos, a lawyer who represents Lone Wolf owner Andre Howard, didn’t immediately respond to requests late Friday afternoon for comment.
Pat McGroder, a lawyer for the Terry family, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
The “Fast and Furious” operation was launched in 2009 to catch trafficking kingpins, but agents lost track of about 1,400 of the more than 2,000 weapons involved.
Authorities say the ring was believed to have supplied the Sinaloa cartel with guns. Mexico’s drug cartels often seek out guns in the U.S. because gun laws in Mexico are more restrictive than in the U.S.
Some guns purchased by the ring were later found at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States.
The probe’s failures were revealed — and later examined in congressional inquiries.
So far, 15 of the 20 people charged in the gun smuggling case have pleaded guilty to charges.
Authorities have a separate case pending in federal court in Tucson against five men charged with murder in Terry’s death.
So far, one man has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. Of the five men accused in Terry’s killing, two are in custody, and three others remain fugitives.
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