By JACQUES BILLEAUD
The family of a slain Border Patrol agent has sued federal officials over the botched “Fast and Furious” gun operation.
Agent Brian Terry was mortally wounded on Dec. 14, 2010, in a firefight north of the Arizona-Mexico border between U.S. agents and five men who had sneaked into the country to rob marijuana smugglers.
Federal authorities conducting “Fast and Furious” have faced tough criticism for allowing suspected straw gun buyers for a smuggling ring to walk away from gun shops in Arizona with weapons, rather than arrest them and seize weapons.
The lawsuit filed Thursday and made publicly available on Friday came from Terry’s parents against six managers and investigators for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The family also sued a federal prosecutor who had previously handled the case but is no longer on it, and the owner of the gun store where two rifles found in the firefight’s aftermath were bought.
The family alleges that the ATF officials and federal prosecutor created a risk to law enforcement officers such as Terry and that the firearms agents should have known their actions would lead to injuries and deaths to civilians and police officers in America and Mexico.
The family also alleged that firearms agents and the prosecutor sought to cover up the link between Terry’s death and the botched gun smuggling investigation.
The “Fast and Furious” operation was launched in 2009 to catch trafficking kingpins, but agents lost track of about 1,400 of the more than 2,000 weapons involved.
Authorities say the ring was believed to have supplied the Sinaloa cartel with guns. Mexico’s drug cartels often seek out guns in the U.S. because gun laws in Mexico are more restrictive than in the U.S.
Some guns purchased by the ring were later found at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States.
The probe’s failures were revealed _ and later examined in congressional inquiries.
So far, 15 of the 20 people charged in the gun smuggling case have pleaded guilty to charges.
Authorities have a separate case pending in federal court in Tucson against five men charged with murder in Terry’s death.
So far, one man has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. Of the five men accused in Terry’s killing, two are in custody, and three others remain fugitives.