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Migrants said they were shouted at, heard truck revving before West Texas man shot at them, affidavit says

Mike Sheppard, a now former detention center warden in Hudspeth County, and his brother Mark Sheppard were arrested Thursday for allegedly shooting and killing a migrant and wounding another. |  Lea esta nota en español

By Travis Bubenik

A group of migrants who were allegedly shot at after two men encountered them off a rural West Texas road told investigators that one of the men yelled obscenities at them and revved the truck’s engine before the driver opened fire, killing one of the migrants and wounding another, according to an arrest affidavit in the case.

Mike Sheppard and his brother Mark Sheppard were arrested Thursday on manslaughter charges for their alleged roles in the shooting near Sierra Blanca, Texas. They were booked into the El Paso County Jail and remained there as of Friday morning, records showed.

A spokesperson for LaSalle Corrections, the company that operates the West Texas Detention Center near Sierra Blanca, confirmed to Texas Public Ra d io that Mike Sheppard had been fired from his job as warden there “due to an off-duty incident unrelated to his employment.”

The detention center has in recent years been used to house detainees in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, though a spokesperson for the agency told Texas Public Radio that the facility has not housed detainees in ICE custody since late 2019.

The news outlet The Intercept reported this week that Mike Sheppard had been previously accused of abusing migrants at the detention center he oversaw. Those allegations were the subject of a 2018 report and formal complaint by the immigrant rights organization RAICES.

Investigators say the Sheppard brothers were driving on a rural road near Interstate 10 in Hudspeth County when they passed the group of migrants who had stopped for a drink of water at a reservoir known as “Filemile Tank.”

According to the affidavit, Mike Sheppard was driving the truck when he passed the migrants, backed up, got out of the truck, leaned on the hood and then fired two shots, killing one of them and wounding another who was later transported to a hospital.

In the affidavit, an investigator says the migrants reported that one of the men yelled “something in Spanish to the effect of, ‘Come out you sons of bitches, little asses!’” and then revved the truck’s engine before the shooting started.

Multiple agencies are investigating the shooting, including the Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI.

In a statement, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency received a call for assistance just after 9 p.m. Tuesday from the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office to “help them locate a female gunshot victim after they received a 911 call.”

Reached by phone, Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West referred questions about the incident to the Texas Rangers, but said the two brothers would be transported from the El Paso County Jail to face charges in Hudspeth County.

Mike Sheppard was “reluctant to speak” with investigators and left his home when approached about the shooting, while his brother changed his story when interviewed, the affidavit said. 

Mark Sheppard initially told investigators he was never in the area where the shooting happened, according to the affidavit, but he later “changed his story and admitted” both the brothers were in the area that evening. 

According to the affidavit, Mark Sheppard said the brothers had driven to the reservoir “looking for ducks, then changed it to birds and then to Javelina’s.” Later, the affidavit said, the two men attended a local water board meeting and “heard on the radio” that a migrant had been found at a local dump suffering from a gunshot wound, though Michael Sheppard told his brother he believed that was too far from where the two were shooting. The brother also claimed to investigators that the two had not yelled anything during the incident, the affidavit said.

“We asked Mark Sheppard what he did when he found out that one of the illegal immigrants had been discovered deceased at the location where he and his brother were shooting, and he said he did not do anything,” the affidavit said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott’s office called the shooting a “terrible tragedy” and said “violence of any kind will not be tolerated in Texas,” but also tied the shooting to the president’s border policies.

“The Texas Department of Public Safety immediately deployed troopers to lead the manhunt and assist the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, and local law enforcement in bringing these criminals to justice,” Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said. 

Eze also described the shooting as “just another example of how President Biden’s open border policies continue endangering lives.” 

“It’s time for President Biden to do his job and stop this humanitarian crisis by securing our southern border,” she said.

The shooting came just a day before another shooting in the same county on Wednesday, in which a state trooper was reportedly flagged down on the interstate by a group of three men, one of whom had been shot in the face.

Texas DPS has not commented on any possible links between the two shootings, but an FBI spokesperson told Marfa Public Radio the two shootings “are not related.”

The Tuesday shooting has drawn widespread condemnation from civil rights and immigrant rights groups, who tied the incident to Republican leaders’ rhetoric on immigration.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.