Suspects of the shootings of migrants went to a meeting after firing fatal shots, a police report said

Michael Sheppard, one of the suspects, was the warden at an immigration detention center that was the subject of multiple human rights complaints in 2018.

EL PASO, Texas — Editor’s Note: This story contains explicit language.

(The Texas Tribune) After crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, a group of 13 Mexican immigrants Tuesday night stopped to get out of a reservoir south of Sierra Blanca, a small town in the Chihuahuan Desert nearly 100 miles east of El Paso, to drink.

A passing pickup truck stopped and reversed near the migrants hiding behind bushes. Someone from the truck shouted in Spanish, “Get out, you sons of bitches, little asses,” the migrants later told police.

A Texas Department of Public Safety affidavit obtained by the Tribune on Friday says Michael Sheppard, the warden at a private immigration detention center in Sierra Blanca, then got out of the truck with a shotgun, leaning on the hood and two shots fired. Killing a man and injuring a woman in the group.

“Did you catch him?” asked his twin brother, Mark Sheppard, who was also in the truck, according to the affidavit. Mark Sheppard changed “him” to “it” while speaking with the officer and claimed the brothers hunted animals and were unaware they had been shooting at people, the affidavit said.

The brothers, both 60, then drove to a local water board meeting.

Both were being held at the El Paso County Jail on Friday on suspicion of manslaughter. It’s unclear if the Sheppards have an attorney.

A spokesman for LaSalle Corrections, a company that operates 19 prisons, jails and immigration detention centers in Georgia, Louisiana and Texas — including the West Texas Detention Center in Sierra Blanca — has told news outlets that it fired Michael Sheppard following the incident.

The woman who was shot in the stomach is recovering at an El Paso hospital, according to US Homeland Security. The other migrants are in federal detention “pending a decision,” said Leticia Zamarripa, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Four years ago, migrants being held at the West Texas Detention Center filed complaints with the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Homeland Security, alleging physical abuse by wardens and the warden. In 2018, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, known as RAICES, the Immigrant Rights Clinic of the Texas A&M University School of Law, and the Immigration Clinic of the University of Texas School of Law included the migrants’ grievances in a report that did not credit Michael Sheppard by name, but he was the warden at the time.

Lora Makowski, spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, said, “At this point, I have no information for you” when asked if the FBI had investigated the allegations.

Paige Hughes, another ICE spokeswoman, said the agency stopped sending detained migrants to the West Texas Detention Center in October 2019. She didn’t say why.

She added that ICE takes all allegations of abuse against detained migrants seriously and said that ICE investigated the allegations at the time, but she did not know the outcome of the investigation.

Immigrant rights advocates on Tuesday called the shooting a hate crime, and U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, called for the federal government to investigate the shooting for possible civil rights violations.

A spokesman for Homeland Security Investigations said it will work with local and state law enforcement to investigate any leads “regarding the shooting,” and will pursue state murder charges and other potential federal crimes.

Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for Gov. Greg Abbott, said the “shooting was a terrible tragedy and violence of any kind will not be tolerated in Texas.”

Changing stories about the police

According to the affidavit, the migrants said they hid in the brush after shouting at someone to come out and then hearing the truck’s engine rev up. They thought the truck was gone and emerged from their hiding place, the affidavit said, and that’s when the shots rang out.

Police investigators reviewed footage from nearby cameras and identified the truck, which police later found parked outside Michael Sheppard’s home. He told police the truck was his and that no one else was driving the vehicle, but declined to speak to officers, the report said.

Mark Sheppard initially told officers he was not dating his brother at the time of the shooting, but “later changed his story and admitted” he was dating Michael Sheppard, the report said. Mark Sheppard also told officers they stopped near the reservoir to “shoot ducks, then changed it to birds and then a javelina,” the report said.

Before Michael Sheppard fired, Mark Sheppard told police he used binoculars and spotted a “black butt who thought it was a javelin,” the affidavit said.

Mark Sheppard told police they didn’t shout anything before his brother fired. He said they went to a local water authority meeting without checking to see if Mike Sheppard’s shots hit anything, the report said.

The case was referred to the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. A spokesman declined to comment as the case is still under investigation.

Abuse allegations by detained migrants

In the 2018 report, which details alleged abuse at the detention center where Mike Sheppard was the warden, 30 men interviewed by RAICES who had been held at the facility reported physical and sexual abuse, “excessive and arbitrary discipline” and having suffered verbal and racial abuse.

One detainee, identified in the report as Dalmar, claimed the warden punched him in the face at a nurses’ station.

“I asked two of the medical professionals present, ‘Will you allow this?'” he said, according to the report. “They said, ‘We didn’t see anything.'”

Detention center officials then placed Dalmar in solitary confinement, the report said, where he “was forced to lie face down on the floor with his hands tied behind his back while the warden kicked me repeatedly in the ribs.” .

All of the detainees interviewed by RAICES said they had experienced “indiscriminate use of pepper spray,” according to the report. One said conditions in the center were so bad that he preferred to return to Somalia, where he feared being killed.

A LaSalle spokesman returned multiple emails on Friday for comment on what action, if any, the company took following the release of the RAICES report.

“RAICES has documented years of widespread racism and abuse by Michael Sheppard and his ‘leadership’ at the West Texas Detention Facility, including abuse, racial slurs and denial of medical and mental health care,” the organization said in a statement Friday. “The immigration system was created to criminalize and dehumanize asylum seekers while ignoring their mistreatment and suffering. This is unacceptable.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

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https://www.kvue.com/article/news/local/texas/texas-migrants-shooting-warden-sierra-blanca/269-9bd56ad5-356a-455f-b46a-e9bfd4125d49 Suspects of the shootings of migrants went to a meeting after firing fatal shots, a police report said

Laura Coffey

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