“The death of Border Agent Brian Terry was likely a preventable tragedy.”by Hugh Holub on Jun. 15, 2011, under politics
The Tragic Death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry
FINDING: Jaime Avila was entered as a suspect in the investigation by ATF on November 25, 2009, after purchasing weapons alongside Uriel Patino, who had been identified as a suspect in October 2009. Over the next month and a half, Avila purchased 13 more weapons, each recorded by the ATF in its database within days of the purchase. Then on January 16, 2010, Avila purchased three AK-47 style rifles, two of which ended up being found at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The death of Border Agent Brian Terry was likely a preventable tragedy.
Fast and Furious has claimed the life of an American federal agent. Late in the evening
of December 14, 2010, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, a native of Michigan, was on patrol with three other agents in Peck Canyon, near Rio Rico, Arizona. One of the agents spotted a group of five suspected illegal aliens; at least two were carrying rifles. Although one of the border patrol agents identified the group as federal agents, the suspected aliens did not drop their weapons. At least one of the suspected aliens fired at the agents, who returned fire.
Agent Terry was struck by on bullet that proved to be fatal.
Most of the suspected aliens fled the scene, though one of them, Manual Osorio-Arellanes, had been wounded and was unable to flee. A slew of federal agents from a variety of
agencies arrived at the scene and the authorities’ recovered three weapons from the suspects, who had dropped their rifles in order to flee the scene faster. Two of those recovered weapons were AK-47 variant rifles that had been bought on January 16, 2010 by straw purchaser Jaime Avila during Operation Fast and Furious. Avila was entered as a suspect in the investigation by ATF on November 25, 2009. This occurred after he purchased weapons with Uriel Patino, a straw buyer who had previously been identified as a suspect in October 2009. On November 24, 2009, agents rushed to the FFL to surveil Avila and Patino, but arrived too late. Over the next month and a half, Avila purchased 13 more weapons, each recorded by the ATF in its database within days of the purchase. Avila bought the weapons recovered at the scene of Agent Terry’s murder almost two months after ATF knew he was working with Patino. Avila’s purchases would eventually total fifty two under Fast and Furious. Patino’s purchases would eventually top 660. As with all the Fast and Furious suspects, gun dealers provided contemporaneous notice of each sale to the ATF.
The day after the Terry shooting, law enforcement agents located and arrested Avila in
Phoenix. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona later indicted him. Avila’s indictment,
however, is typical of the indictments that have resulted thus far from Fast and Furious. Avila was indicted on three counts of “lying and buying”—including false statements on ATF Form 4473, a prerequisite to the purchase of any firearm. These three indictments, however, do not stem from the weapons purchased on January 16, 2010, that eventually ended up at the Terry murder scene. Instead, Avila was indicted with respect to rifles he bought six months later and which also turned up at a crime scene.
On May 6, 2011, DOJ unsealed an indictment of Manuel Osorio-Arellanes for the murder
of Brian Terry.54 Federal authorities, led by the FBI, are pursuing his co-conspirators, including the gunman suspected of firing the fatal shot and fleeing the scene.
In Phoenix, the news of Agent Terry’s death deeply saddened, but did not surprise, Group
VII agents. They had agonized over the possibility of this event, and they ruefully contemplated future similar incidents resulting from the abundance of illegal guns.
During their transcribed interviews, the ATF agents shared their reactions to Agent Brian
Terry’s murder. Agent Dodson testified:
Q. Along those lines, when did you find out that Agent Terry was
A. I found out December 16th, 2010.
Q. And what can you tell us about your recollections that information?
* * *
A. Well, I was called by another agent and was told that – or asked if I
had heard about Agent Terry’s death. I told him that I had. And
then he confirmed for me what I already thought when he called,
which was that it was one of the guns from Fast and Furious.
And then later that day, I was speaking to my acting supervisor,
Marge Zicha, and she had made a comment to me that they were
very busy because two of the Fast and Furious guns were found at
the scene of Agent Terry’s homicide.
Agent Dodson also detailed ATF’s awareness of and its multiple contacts with the accused murderer, Jaime Avila, for months prior to Agent Terry’s murder. So essentially in January 2010, or December when I got there, we knew Jaime Avila was a straw purchaser, had him identified as a known straw purchaser supplying weapons to the cartel. Shortly thereafter, we had previous weapons recovered from Mexico with very short time to crime rates purchased by Jaime Avila, as I recall.
And then in May we had a recovery where Border Patrol encounters an armed group of bandits and recovered an AK variant rifle purchased by Jaime Avila, and we still did not – purchased during the time we were watching Jaime Avila, had him under surveillance, and we did nothing.
Then on December 14th, 2010 Agent Brian Terry is killed in Rio Rico, Arizona. Two weapons recovered from the scene . . . two AK variant weapons purchased by Jaime Avila on January 16th, 2010 while we had him under surveillance, after we knew him to be a straw purchaser, after we identified him as purchasing firearms for a known Mexican drug cartel.
Although the ATF agents’ worst fears were confirmed, they did not feel good a bout being
right. In the wake of Agent Terry’s death, they were even more upset, saddened, and
embarrassed. Agent Alt explained:
I have loved working for ATF since I have been hired here. I came here to retire from ATF. I could be doing any number of things, as you all are aware. . . . I could be whatever I chose to be, and I chose to be here.
I am not — I am embarrassed here. I regret the day that I set foot into this field division because of some of the things that a few people have done and the impact that it has had on our agency, and not the least of, not the least, though, is the impact it has had on the public and safety and Agent Terry. While I don’t know that guns in any of these cases are directly responsible for his death, I am appalled that there would be in any way associated with his death.
A December 15, 2010 e-mail exchange among ATF agents details the aftermath of Agent
Terry’s death. ATF, fearing the worst, conducted an “urgent firearms trace” of the firearms, recovered on the afternoon of the murder. By 7:45 p.m. that evening, the trace confirmed these fears:
Agent Terry did not die in vain. His passing exposed the practice of knowingly allowing
the transfer of guns to suspected straw purchasers. ATF now maintains it no longer condones this dangerous technique. The cessation of this practice will likely save lives on both sides of the border. Tragically, however, we will be seeing the ramifications of the policy to allow guns from Fast and Furious be transferred into the hands of suspected criminals for years to come.
These weapons will continue to be found at crime scenes in the United States and Mexico.