The parents of slain ICE Special Agent Jaime J. Zapata and his partner, ICE Special Agent Victor Avila Jr., filed a civil lawsuit in federal court Tuesday, alleging a conspiracy, cover-up and negligence in connection with the attack on the agents nearly two years ago in Mexico.
Zapata was killed and Avila seriously injured Feb. 15, 2011, when gunmen, believed to be members of a drug trafficking organization, ambushed them as they drove along Highway 57 near Santa Maria del Rio in the northern state of San Luis Potosi.
Defendants named in the lawsuit include the U.S. government, federal agencies, U.S. and Mexico officials, firearms dealers, and what the lawsuit alleges are straw purchasers and gunrunners.
Zapata's mother Mary M. Zapata, individually and as administrator of her son's estate, his father Amador Zapata Jr. and Avila seek unspecified damages.
They allege the defendants failed to abide by policies and regulations on arms exports, safe travel and oversight of employees. They also make allegations involving issuance of defective vehicles, gunwalking and failure to disclose known dangers involving gunwalking.
According to the lawsuit, Zapata was killed and Avila injured with firearms originating from gun dealers in the United States.
"At least three firearms were recovered by Mexican authorities investigating the attack and given to the U.S. government. The firearms used were found to have originated in the United States," the lawsuit states.
"ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) concluded that these firearms were in fact used to shoot Agents Zapata and Avila."
The lawsuit also notes that Mexican supervisors instructed Avila and Zapata to drive down the highway known to be patrolled and controlled by a dangerous criminal organization to pick up equipment.
The lawsuit states a security notice had been issued, and in a Feb. 14, 2011, email referencing the packages Avila and Zapata were sent to retrieve, the Department of Homeland Security was informed that several skirmishes between federal forces and drug trafficking organizations had occurred and that sending the package via "pouch" could be utilized.
"Despite opposition by Avila and despite having full knowledge of the dangers present with the package pickup, Mexico supervisors instructed Avila and Zapata to proceed with the directive," and were not escorted, drove in an improperly maintained and defective vehicle with an inoperable GPS and PA system, and flaws that allowed the gunmen to gain access to the vehicle and shoot the agents, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
Avila Jr. and Amador Zapata filed pro se, Zapata's mother and the estate are represented by Trey Martinez III with Martinez Barrera Martinez. Other firms noted as representing the plaintiffs are Kittleman, Thomas & Gonzales, and the RAD Law Firm.
The named defendants have not yet responded to the allegations, but initial responses usually consist of a general denial with demand for proof.
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