Nicolas Ivie, US Border Patrol agent fatally shot near Naco, Arizona (image courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection photo via AP)
Phoenix (written by Laurie Merrill/Arizona Republic) -- Confirming that investigators believe a U.S. Border Patrol agent fired the first shot in a suspected "friendly fire" incident last week, an agents-union official said Sunday that the Border Patrol will review procedures to help prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
"It's just a horrible, unfortunate incident," said George McCubbin, National Border Patrol Council president, who has reviewed investigative reports.
After the FBI and the Cochise County Sheriff's Office complete their investigations, the Border Patrol will investigate whether policies and procedures were followed and whether they're adequate to prevent an agent from firing at another agent in the field, McCubbin said.
Border Patrol officials were not available for comment Sunday.
Agent Nicholas Ivie was killed about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday in a shooting in a remote, mountainous area known for drug smuggling about 6 miles east of Bisbee and several miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The FBI announced on Friday that there are strong indications that the shooting involved friendly fire.
Ivie, 30, and two other agents were responding to an activated sensor. Ivie and the other agents arrived in vehicles, then set out on foot, said acting Cochise County Sheriff Rodney Rothrock. McCubbin said Ivie was approaching a shallow canyon from the north, and two agents, a man and a woman, were approaching from the south.
"They were dropping into a saddle (shallow canyon) from different directions," McCubbin said. "The area was heavy with thick brush."
Investigators believe Ivie thought he had run into an armed smuggler and fired, striking the man in the ankle and buttocks, McCubbin said. The agents were about 20 yards apart, Rothrock said. McCubbin said the injured agent returned fire, killing Ivie. The female agent also fired her service revolver, but it's not clear whether she struck anyone. She was not injured.
"We believe Agent Ivie was responding to whatever was there," McCubbin said. "Initial reports said he was ambushed."
McCubbin's statements confirm what The Arizona Republic reported late Friday. A source close to the investigation told the newspaper that the agents lost radio contact and Ivie got spooked and started to shoot, with another agent returning fire.
It is unclear if Ivie identified himself before firing, which is common practice, McCubbin said, and it's unclear if the other agents heard him if he did.
"It's at night and you have more than one unit responding to the report," McCubbin said. "We are running into canyons and saddles and down mountains, and you don't know what you are going to find down there."
Rothrock would not comment on whether Ivie shot first, but said, "They (the agents) were able to distinguish there was somebody else there but not able to distinguish that they were border agents."
The agents' weapons have been seized, and they are on paid leave pending a Border Patrol review of the incident, which is customary, McCubbin said. The union has hired lawyers for both agents, standard practice in any incident involving a shooting.
Investigators have reported there is no evidence that border crossers tripped the sensors. Sensors are often tripped by grazing cattle, McCubbin said.
He said, according to investigative reports, Ivie and the other two agents knew they were responding to the same tripped sensor because they radioed dispatch. They apparently lost radio contact, he said.
He said radio communication has been an issue during his 27 years on the force.