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Former West Texas warden arrested for shooting migrants

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ChuckSchugPhotography/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Two migrants were shot, one of them fatally, in Hudspeth County in far West Texas on Tuesday, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“The preliminary investigation shows that a truck with two men inside pulled over and shot at a group of illegal immigrants standing alongside the road getting water,” said DPS Lt. Elizabeth Carter.

Carter said two men were arrested in Sierra Blanca on Thursday in connection with the shooting. The brothers, Mike and Mark Sheppard, were charged with manslaughter and booked in the El Paso County Jail without bond.

Mike Sheppard was a jail warden for the West Texas Detention Center in Sierra Blanca — a privately owned detention facility that used to contract with the federal government to detain migrants. A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that facility hasn't held detainees in federal custody since 2019.

Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections confirmed to TPR that Mike Sheppard no longer worked with the company.

“The warden at West Texas Detention Center, Sierra Blanca, TX, has been terminated due to an off-duty incident unrelated to his employment,” said Scott Sutterfield, a spokesperson for LaSalle, in a statement.

Sheppard's termination was first reported by the San Antonio Express-News.

In the affidavit, Texas Ranger Juan Torres said that on September 27, 2022, the unauthorized immigrants were walking through a desert path located near Sierra Blanca, Texas, in Hudspeth County. At approximately 7:00 pm MST, they stopped to drink water at a reservoir.

Federal agents interviewed the immigrants who stated that they had heard two males calling out to them in profanity-laced Spanish to come out from hiding. They “revved the engine of the truck,” prompting the migrants to hide in the brush. Thinking the vehicle was driving away, they emerged from their hiding place. The driver, holding a firearm, exited the vehicle and fired two shots at the group, striking one person who died at the scene. The other person was struck in the stomach and was transported to a hospital.

The driver got back into the vehicle and fled the scene.

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Courtesy: El Paso Sheriff

According to agents, once they traced his residence through a description of the vehicle, “he was reluctant to speak…and left.”

Agents interviewed his brother, Mark Sheppard, who denied being in the location where the shooting occurred, but later changed the details of his story and admitted that he and his brother had been together the night of September 27, 2022. In Michael's vehicle, they approached the area of the reservoir and stopped there, “looking for ducks.” They then changed the detail to “javelinas.”

Mark said that he used binoculars and saw a “black butt” and believed it was a javelina.

Mark said that Michael exited the truck and fired two rounds. Mark told the agents he asked Michael “Did you get him?” He quickly changed “him” to “it.”

Mark told the agent he'd heard about the immigrant suffering from a gunshot wound on the radio but said he and Michael were too far from that place when they stopped to shoot.

Michael Sheppard denied having been involved with the shooting and said he merely failed to report to authorities that he had been out in the same location where the deceased was discovered.

On Wednesday morning, there was another shooting in Hudspeth County that appeared to also target migrants.

26-year-old Erick Garibaldi of Fort Hancock was accused of shooting a man in the face. The victim taken to Del Sol Medical Center.

It was not clear if the two shootings were connected.

The Democratic Party of Texas said in a statement that it blamed the shootings on political rhetoric around immigration policy, which has been stalled in Congress for decades.

“This killing in West Texas is the direct result of Texas Republicans’ violent fearmongering of undocumented migrants: when you continuously use language like ‘invasion’ to describe what is happening at our border, the only logical conclusion is that you want migrants and asylum-seekers to be treated like ‘invaders,’" said Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party.

Hinojosa pointed out that the same rhetoric led to the Wal-Mart shooting in El Paso that killed 23 people. The shooter said he was "targeting Mexicans."

“We saw this in El Paso, when a racist monster drove hundreds of miles just to slaughter innocent shoppers at a Wal-Mart, ginned up by the bigoted language that Texas Republicans use to rally their base," Hinojosa added.

LULAC, the nation's largest Latino civil rights organization, named Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis specifically.

"LULAC is outraged by this execution-style gunning down of innocent people, like hunting for human beings to kill. We lay the blood of these migrants directly at the feet of Governors Abbott and DeSantis, who have fed the worst type of hatemongering against migrants in our recent history," said Domingo García, LULAC National President.

DeSantis and Abbott did not respond to TPR's requests for comment.

On Friday, Abbott’s Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke called the West Texas shooting a “predictable result” of Abbott’s language about immigration.

Abbott and O’Rourke were scheduled to take part in their one and only debate ahead of the November election Friday at 7 p.m. in Edinburg, a city in the Rio Grande Valley.

Abbott did not tweet about the shootings but did continue his immigration rhetoric on Thursday, He touted his controversial Operation Lone Star program, which uses Texas DPS and National Guard to arrest migrants on state trespassing charges.

Earlier this year, he also began bussing migrants from the Texas-Mexico border to New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago.

DeSantis recently conducted his own operation in Texas, using Florida’s taxpayer dollars to deceive migrants into boarding a chartered flight to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

With his latest Executive Order, the Governor articulates more of a shadow immigration policy and draws threats from Justice Department.

Immigration falls under the purview of the federal government, not the states.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection continues to encounter a rise in migration at the Southern border. In July, CBP reported 200,195 encounters.

There have been 748 migrant deaths reported this fiscal year since October 2021, mostly attributable to extreme heat and drownings.

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.
As TPR's news director, Katz leads the organization’s news and journalism efforts, overseeing the newsroom’s day-to-day management and the development of a strategic vision for the news division. He also serves on the organization’s executive leadership team.