Family of slain agent: Prosecute gun runners, not ATF officials

The family of a slain federal agent is pushing for the government to indict and prosecute all the criminals involved in trafficking and using the guns involved in his death.

Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s cousin, Robert Heyer, told The Hill in an interview that the family is not calling for the criminal prosecution of the federal officials, agents and officers who might have been involved in the Fast and Furious operation.

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“Our No. 1 concern right now is the successful prosecution of Brian’s murderers,” said Heyer.

“That’s not to say we don’t feel this was a reckless and ill-conceived investigation on the part of ATF. But we’re not calling for the individuals in ATF and DOJ to be criminally indicted.”

Heyer’s comments come in the wake of testimony he delivered alongside Terry’s mother and sister before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee two weeks ago.

The hearing was part of an ongoing investigation by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) controversial Operation Fast and Furious, which authorized the sale of thousands of weapons to known and suspected straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartels.

Two of those weapons were found at the scene of a gun battle last December in Arizona, where Terry was shot and killed.

The operation’s objective was to use the gun sales to trace and ultimately dismantle the illicit trafficking routes that bring guns bought in the U.S. to Mexico. But officials did not authorize an appropriate level of surveillance for the weapons and their traffickers, and the majority of them eventually went missing, ATF agents have testified.

At the hearing, Heyer testified that the family wanted to see government officials held accountable for authorizing the operation that might have contributed to his cousin’s death.

“We ask that if a government official made a wrong decision, that they admit their error and take responsibility for his or her actions,” said Heyer at the hearing.

“We hope that all individuals involved in Brian’s murder and those that played a role in putting assault weapons in their hands are found and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

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But in an interview, Heyer clarified that Terry’s family was not trying to imply that it was calling for the prosecution of government officials involved in the operation, though he said he could understand how that could be inferred from his earlier statement. Instead, the family would like to see the government officials who authorized the operation take responsibility for their decisions.

The family is also advocating for the successful prosecution of Jaime Avila, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes and any other individuals who might have aided in the trafficking or use of the weapons that killed Terry. Avila allegedly bought the two weapons found at the scene of Terry’s death, and Osorio-Arellanes faces second-degree murder charges after being arrested at the scene of the gun battle.

“We’re not happy with just the indictment of one or two or three individuals that were there in the firefight that night. It goes much deeper and wider than that,” said Heyer.

“We believe that this was an ill-conceived and reckless investigation on behalf of ATF and DOJ, and it’s hard enough to lose a son, a brother, a cousin, but then not to have your government accept responsibility and say, ‘Yeah, hey, this was our fault, this operation’ — we want somebody to take responsibility for it. And again, that’s a separate issue from prosecution.”

One of the main ways agents would be able to partially track a gun’s path under the operation was if it was found at the scene of a crime and officials were able to trace it back to the original federally authorized purchase, as was the case with the guns found at Terry’s murder scene. It remains unclear whether the guns found at the scene that were linked to the operation were actually used to kill Terry.