Valeria Alvarado, the 32-year-old woman killed by a Border Patrol agent on September 28, 2012, had every right to try to get away from the man who killed her, her lawyer declared last month in a filing in the federal lawsuit brought by her family.
Initial news coverage of the shooting painted a picture of a few agents going to execute a warrant on the apartment where Alvarado was a visitor. She allegedly told the feds the resident was in the shower, then left the apartment, followed by Border Patrol agents Justin Tackett and Alex Roozen.
Alvarado, a U.S. citizen and mother of five children, left the apartment and was pursued to the parking lot, where she tried to drive away — at one point with Tackett on the car hood — and was shot nine times.
The shooting was investigated by the Chula Vista Police Department, and her family's attorney has a copy of their report, according to the court file. Attorney Gene Iredale said that he has added information to the court filings as he has acquired it. The newly amended complaint is part of a lawsuit that alleges the killing violated Alvarado's civil rights, and that the Border Patrol failed to recognize that Tackett, who shot her, should never have been hired.
The suit was filed in 2013 on behalf of Alvarado’s father, husband, and five children. The new complaint adds Stephanie Shavatt (the Customs and Border Protection hiring manager who approved Tackett for employment) and agent Roozen as defendants. It also adds details from Imperial County Sheriff's Department disciplinary documents.
The lawsuit now says, “There exists overwhelming proof that Tackett [as an Imperial Valley law-enforcement officer] had engaged in exactly the kind of conduct he exhibited on the day of Valeria Alvarado Tachiquin's death: bullying, lying about what the law requires and allows, illegally detaining and illegally arresting.”
The medical examiner found a small amount of methamphetamine in Alvarado's blood, as well as 14 bullet wounds. But court documents say that there was no warrant, that Alvarado did not strike Tackett, that Tackett did not give a statement to police until five days after the incident, and that he was standing in the street, not clinging to the hood — when he shot her.
According to the new documents, a team of six plainclothes Border Patrol agents showed up at the Chula Vista apartment for a "knock and talk" visit. The problem is, according to the lawsuit and a copy of their own training manual, their policies say that knock-and-talks require consent.
“[U.S. Border Patrol] policy prohibits [Border Patrol agents] from conducting random ‘knock and talks’ or indiscriminately questioning individuals in residential dwelling or private business premise unless there are articulable facts and circumstances indicative of criminal activities," the 2012 policy update states.
"If one occupant consents to the entry or search but a co-occupant is present and objects or otherwise refuses consent, then BPAs may not proceed with the ‘knock and talk’ and must immediately leave the premises."
Even if people are on probation, which normally triggers what's called a "Fourth Amendment Waiver" of the right to refuse a search, Border Patrol agents are not authorized to do them without "the direction of state law enforcement officers or Federal Probation Officers who are physically present," the policy update manual states. And local policy requires that knock-and-talks be done by uniformed agents, according to the complaint, which quotes a 2010 memo.
"Ms. Alvarado had no legal obligation to identify herself or cooperate with Tackett," the complaint states. She didn't cooperate. Instead, she left the apartment and headed to the street, got into her Honda Accord and tried to drive away.
The car was parallel-parked next to the curb. According to the complaint, Tackett stood in front of her car to block it — Tackett responded that he was reading her license plate over the phone to his dispatcher, and she tried to maneuver around him while Roozen stood next to the driver's window. Tackett claimed that she hit his shin and he began shouting she was under arrest for assaulting a federal agent. He ordered Roozen to break the window — which Roozen did, showering Alvarado's face and shoulders with broken glass, according to the complaint.
Roozen displayed his badge on his belt while Tackett did not, the complaint says. Then Tackett threw himself on the hood while Alvarado tried to drive away. After a series of turns and forward-reverse maneuvers, Tackett emptied his gun shooting Alvarado. Although Tackett reported that he fired the gun in a two-handed grip while he was on the hood of the car, the complaint says that he had jumped off and was standing in the street when he fired.
No injury to Tackett was ever found, the complaint says. Tackett did not give a detailed statement to the Chula Vista police until five days after the shooting, both sides agree. The complaint alleges he refused, which Tackett's lawyers say is not true.
In response to the allegations in the new complaint, Tackett's lawyers say "Tackett acted reasonably under the circumstances to attempt to gain control over an irrational suspect who violently and recklessly resisted Tackett's exercise of lawful authority." Alvarado "escalated a routine law enforcement contact to a law enforcement emergency that placed Tackett's life in extreme and imminent danger," the response states.
While Tackett's lawyers agree that Tackett was standing in front of the parallel-parked car and Roozen was next to the driver’s side window, they deny that the Border Patrol agents were detaining her or preventing her from leaving, according to the response. Instead, they say, she hit Tackett "several times with her car as she attempted to awkwardly maneuver the car from between other cars and away from the curb."
After a harrowing ride on the hood of the car, Tackett began firing through the windshield while the car was moving forward, "continuing as defendant Tackett slid off the hood and landed upright in the street." After she was shot and killed, her car began moving slowly backward, the response says.
The Alvarado family's new complaint also gives a detailed look at Tackett's hiring — which was okayed by Stephanie Shavatt a week after the Border Patrol hiring office received a letter from congressman Duncan Hunter, who hired Tackett after he resigned from the Imperial County Sheriff's Department.
Tackett resigned after 19 months on the job and four disciplinary actions for lying, excessive force, and civil rights violations. One incident grew out of a request by the Brawley Police Department to have a deputy meet them at the home of a suspect in a hit-and-run accident — the wrong suspect, it turned out. But instead of waiting for the Brawley cop, Tackett "rousted" the resident, "engaged him in an altercation, handcuffed him and took him into custody."
The Imperial County officials later wrote that Tackett failed to wait for the Brawley cop, improperly entered the property without a warrant — and failed to notice that the resident's car was not the one involved in the hit-and-run.
Tackett's second suspension was for improperly conducting a search of someone on probation after he'd been specifically instructed to leave those efforts to probation officers, and then lying to his sergeant about it.
In two other incidents, Tackett allegedly entered and searched without warrants or permission, made arrests where charges weren't issued, and, in one, left a sick man in a hot vehicle begging for water while he drank a cold drink in front of the man.
Prosecutors declined to charge in those cases, in one writing that Tackett's violations of the suspect's civil rights were "almost too numerous" to list, the new complaint states. Tackett's lawyers say that no evidence of those civil rights violations exists and that the allegations did not preclude the Border Patrol from hiring Tackett.
According to those early reports, Alvarado hit Tackett with her car and carried him on the hood for several blocks, and he shot her nine times through the windshield while hanging on to the hood after a life-threatening trip down the street.
Tackett was standing in front of her car reading her license plate, the document says. Once hit, Tackett shouted to Alvarado that she was under arrest for assaulting a federal officer and ordered Roozen to break the car window and get the keys from the ignition, Tackett's lawyers say. Tackett's statement was that he was thrown on the hood when Alvarado hit him, while the lawyers for her family say he put himself on the hood.