Man accused of shooting at migrants was director of detention center

One of two Texas brothers who, authorities say, opened fire on a group of migrants who received water near the US-Mexico border, killing one and injuring another, became a security guard at a detention center with a history of abuse allegations.

The shooting happened Tuesday in rural Hudspeth County, about 90 miles from El Paso, according to court documents filed Thursday. A man was killed; a woman was taken to an El Paso hospital where she was recovering from a gunshot wound to her stomach, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

DPS said the victims were among a group of migrants who were standing by the road to drink water from a reservoir when a truck with two men inside pulled up. According to court documents, the group had run for cover when the truck first drove past so as not to be noticed, but the truck backed up. The driver then got out of the vehicle and fired two shots at the group.

Witnesses to the group told federal agents that just before hearing the shots, they heard one of the two men in the vehicle yell derogatory terms at them and hear the engine run, according to court documents.

Authorities located the truck by checking cameras and finding a vehicle that matched the description given by the migrants, according to court records.

Michael Sheppard and Mark Sheppard, both 60, were charged with manslaughter, according to court documents. Court records did not list attorneys for either man. Contact details for them or their representatives could not be found and attempts to reach them for comment since their arrest have failed.

Records show that Michael Sheppard was the warden of the West Texas detention facility, a private center that houses migrant detainees. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told The Associated Press that no ICE detainees have been held in that detention facility since October 2019, following the opening of a larger detention facility nearby.

Scott Sutterfield, a spokesperson for facility operator Lasalle Corrections, responded to an email from the AP asking if Sheppard had been fired as a security guard. Sutterfield said the director had been fired “due to an off-duty incident unrelated to his job.” Sutterfield declined further comment, citing the “ongoing criminal investigation.”

A 2018 report from the A&M Immigration Law Clinics at the University of Texas and Texas A&M and the immigration advocacy group RAICES cited multiple allegations of physical and verbal abuse against African migrants at the facility. According to the report, the guard was “involved in three of the reports of verbal threats by the detainees, as well as incidents of physical assault.” The director mentioned in the report was not named.

However, Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat, said in a news conference on Saturday that Sheppard was in fact the director of the facility at the time of the allegations and when the report was published. According to information from Doggett’s office, the webpage of Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections listed Sheppard as an employee of West Texas since 2015.

Doggett, along with other Democratic congressmen from Texas, called on Saturday for a federal investigation into the shooting.

“The dehumanization, the humiliation of people seeking refuge in this country, many of whom are people of color, has contributed to the violence we see here,” Doggett said.

In one account detailed in the report, a migrant told lawyers that the director punched him in the face while he was at the nursing station and when he turned to the medical officers, he was told they had “seen nothing” .

“I was then placed in solitary confinement where I was forced to lie face down on the floor with my hands handcuffed behind my back as I was repeatedly kicked in the ribs by the warden,” said a migrant who called Dalmar. is mentioned in the report. .

The attorneys filed a civil rights complaint that year over the charges, but according to the reply letter sent to the attorneys in 2021, the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties conducted an on-site investigation, made multiple recommendations to ICE , but didn’t. found evidence of “any incidents of excessive use of force” or “incidents of wrongful segregation” and found that some forms of violence were appropriate.

Fatma Marouf, a co-author of the report and director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Texas A&M, said it was difficult for authorities to act on the allegations because many of the people interviewed for the report were arrested shortly afterwards. deported.

Marouf said current views on immigration enforcement, based on deterring people at all costs, have “got out of control”.

“We don’t even see people as people anymore,” Marouf said.

The number of Venezuelans detained in the US-Mexico surged in August, while fewer migrants were held back from Mexico and some Central American countries, officials said earlier this month. In total, US authorities stopped migrants 203,598 times in August, up 1.8% from 199,976 in July, but down 4.7% from 213,593 in August 2021.

Silky Shah, executive director of advocacy organization Detention Watch Network, said this is both a problem of current immigration rhetoric, including the use of terms like “invasion” by GOP leaders, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and inaction. of federal officials to move away from the previous administration’s immigration policies that reinforced this sentiment.

“I think there is no doubt that there is a discourse that encourages this kind of action,” Shah said.

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Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat and Paul Weber contributed to this report.

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