Migrants shot in West Texas: A former prison warden and his brother face additional charges in the shooting

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CNN
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Two brothers who were accused of shooting two migrants in West Texas are now facing additional charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after being rearrested earlier this week.

Michael and Mark Sheppard, both 60, remain in custody as of Friday afternoon and bond has been set at $250,000 each, according to Chief Deputy Lazaro Salgado with the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office.

CNN previously reported both men had posted bond, also of $250,000 each, on Monday on separate manslaughter charges and were released, according to Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West. They were rearrested on Wednesday by the Texas Rangers on the additional charges.

Both men have close ties to law enforcement, according to multiple sources. Michael Sheppard was the warden at a privately-run prison in the area, and Mark Sheppard was employed by the sheriff’s office to do maintenance work. Both were terminated from their positions after the shooting, according to LaSalle Corrections and the sheriff’s office.

The men are accused of shooting at a group of migrants who had stopped to get a drink of water, killing one and wounding another. The alleged shooting took place on September 27 near Sierra Blanca, Texas.

Surviving migrants told investigators they hid in the brush when the men pulled over in their truck, according to probable cause affidavits for the first arrest. The migrants said they heard the men shout something in Spanish to the effect of, “Come out you sons of bitches, little asses,” before one of them fired two rounds.

Mark Sheppard told investigators the two brothers thought they were shooting at javelinas, a type of wild pig, but did not check to see whether they’d hit anything.

Immigrant rights advocates said this area of West Texas has become an increasingly busy route for migrants, and to reach the area, migrants had likely been walking for days in harsh conditions.

Mark Sheppard (left) and Mike Sheppard

On Thursday, the sheriff’s office released documents showing the additional charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony. The new arrest affidavits are almost exactly the same as the originals, except for a tweak in the language when the investigator describes the shooting.

The affidavits for the first arrest on manslaughter say, “Mark Sheppard told us Michael Sheppard exited the truck with a shotgun, leaned on the hood of the vehicle and fired two rounds.”

The new affidavits with the additional aggravated assault charges say Michael Sheppard exited the truck with a shotgun, leaned on the hood of the vehicle “and recklessly fired two rounds into their location.”

CNN has been unable to reach or speak with the Sheppards’ attorneys.

When reached by CNN, a representative with the Far West Texas Regional Public Defender’s office declined to comment on the case.

Hudspeth County Commissioner Andrew Virdell said he was having coffee with the brothers and the sheriff just a few hours before the shooting. They were at the sheriff’s office together, but the brothers did not mention any plans to go hunting that evening, Virdell said.

“I can’t even believe they did it. It’s just a shock,” Verdell said. “I don’t know what their motive would be.”

Mark Sheppard initially told investigators they were hunting for ducks, then changed it to birds, then changed it to javelinas, according to the initial arrest affidavit.

Virdell confirmed javelinas are often found in the area of the shooting, but he said it’s hard to believe migrants could be mistaken for javelinas.

“If you get people ducking in bushes, I guess they could look like that (javelinas),” he said, but added, “Usually when you fire a gun in Texas, you go see what you hit or whatever. You don’t just drive off.”

The victims who were injured and killed by the two brothers last week were Mexican nationals, according to a news release issued by the Mexican Consulate in El Paso. The victims were not identified by name.

The victims and their families are receiving consular and legal services for a possible human rights violations case and the Anti-Defamation League has been notified, the news release states. CNN has confirmed with the league the case was reported to them.

“ADL is deeply disturbed to learn of the apparent shooting of two migrants, one fatally, in Hudspeth County, TX. While the investigation is underway, we strongly call for law enforcement to examine the potential of these shootings being hate-motivated,” the league’s Southwest office tweeted. “Migrants deserve to be treated with dignity and respect as they come to the U.S. to seek a better and safer life. Hate-filled rhetoric demonizing immigrant has real-world, deadly consequences and must stop.”

The Mexican national who was injured remains hospitalized and is “out of danger,” the Mexican Consulate of El Paso news release states. Arrangements are being made for the body of the deceased individual to be repatriated to Mexico.

Michael Sheppard, the former warden of the West Texas Detention Facility in Sierra Blanca, was a subject of a scathing report which documented alleged racism and abuse of African men at the hands of Sheppard and other detention leadership, according to Fatma Marouf, the director of the Immigration Rights Clinic at Texas A&M University School of Law.

“We had evidence of this exact individual, kicking people calling them racial slurs, throwing them on the ground,” Marouf told CNN by phone. “So it’s not a surprise to me. It’s just horrible that nothing was done earlier.”

CNN has been unable to reach Sheppard or his attorney for comment.

Marouf’s team and members of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services and the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin interviewed 30 of the men and authored the 2018 report.

The report focused on the treatment of about 80 African men, ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s, many of whom had lived in the US for decades, had US citizen family members, and had been detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on minor criminal offenses. Some of the men had arrived as child refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries.

The report alleges Sheppard and other leadership at the detention center used racial slurs, denied the men medical and mental health care, and also physically abused the individuals.

“He’s quoted as saying things like, ‘Shut your Black ass up. You don’t deserve nothing. You belong at the back of the (that) cage,’ calling people ‘Boy,’ things like that. Telling people ‘You’re my bitch,’” Marouf said.

CNN reached out to LaSalle Corrections for comment on the report after Sheppard was terminated last week but did not get a response.

Marouf says the authors of the report filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General and with the US Department of Justice. The team received a letter from the department concluding there was no wrongdoing, according to a copy of the letter provided to CNN by Marouf. The Justice Department responded to them by saying the inspector general’s office would take the lead, Marouf added.

“It often comes down to who you believe and that tends to be, you know, deference to law enforcement, unfortunately,” Marouf said.

CNN has reached out to Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General and has not immediately heard back. The US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas emailed CNN saying the office did not have a comment at this time.



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