El Paso man pleads guilty to shooting Border Patrol agent during human smuggling attempt

An El Paso man pleaded guilty in a New Mexico federal court to attempted murder for shooting a U.S. Border Patrol agent during a human smuggling attempt.

Roberto Esquivel, 25, pleaded guilty Jan. 30 to one count each of attempted murder of an officer of the United States, aggravated assault of an officer of the United States with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and conspiracy to transport illegal aliens, according to federal court records.

The guilty plea was made before U.S. District Court for District of New Mexico Chief Magistrate Judge Gregory B. Wormuth in Las Cruces.

Esquivel was arrested Jan. 5, 2023, and has remained jailed, federal court records show. He will remain jailed until his sentencing.

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A date for a sentencing hearing has not been set. A plea agreement filed in federal court states Esquivel and federal prosecutors agreed to a 19-year prison sentence. A federal judge must accept the agreement at a sentencing hearing.

Esquivel was facing up to 20 years in federal prison on each of the attempted murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm charges, the plea agreement states. He was facing 10 years in federal prison on the conspiracy to transport illegal aliens charge. The plea agreement does not state what Esquivel will receive on the conspiracy charge.

Border Patrol agent shot twice in ballistic vest during traffic stop

A U.S. Border Patrol agent conducted a traffic stop about 11:30 a.m. Jan. 5, 2023, on Highway 146 near Animas, New Mexico. A black sedan was pulled over because the driver was displaying "unusual behavior while driving," a federal complaint affidavit states.

The agent was wearing "plain clothes and his government-issued ballistic vest, marked on the front with 'POLICE FEDERAL AGENT' and displaying his USBP badge patch," the affidavit states.

As the agent went up to the vehicle, Esquivel removed a gun from the center console and placed it under his right leg, U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Mexico officials said.

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The agent went up to the driver's side window and began talking with Esquivel, who gave the agent his U.S. driver's license. The agent then asked five other people in the vehicle in Spanish what country they were from and if they had legal documentation to be in the U.S.

The five passengers told the agent they were from Mexico and illegally in the U.S., the affidavit states. The agent then asked Esquivel to step out of the vehicle.

Esquivel began to open the door but "suddenly" pulled out a black handgun and fired at the agent, the affidavit states. The agent ran back across the road to find cover and return fire. Esquivel then fled in the vehicle.

The agent holstered his gun and realized he had been shot twice in the back of his ballistic vest, the affidavit states. A plea agreement filed in federal court states Esquivel fired at least four shots.

The agent's supervisor arrived and took the agent to a hospital in Deming, New Mexico.

Esquivel lost control of the vehicle and rolled over multiple times, officials said. He ran away from the crash site and threw the gun away in the desert before he collapsed, officials said.

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Several people in the vehicle were injured in the crash, the affidavit states. Esquivel and one migrant were taken to an El Paso hospital for treatment. Court documents do not state what injuries Esquivel and the migrant suffered.

Law enforcement officers recovered a black Smith & Wesson .40 caliber handgun about 150 yards east of wherethe vehicle crashed in the desert, the affidavit states.

Shooter told migrants to 'Shut up'

FBI agents interviewed the migrants later that day. The migrants identified Esquivel as the driver of the vehicle and the shooter, the affidavit states.

At least two of the migrants told agents they saw Esquivel with the black handgun before and during the shooting.

The migrants pleaded with Esquivel to stop the vehicle as he fled. Esquivel told the migrants to "shut up," the affidavit states.

Esquivel claims he panicked and shot the agent

FBI and Homeland Security Investigations agents interviewed Esquivel the next day at a hospital in El Paso. He was read his Miranda Rights and agreed to talk to the agents.

Esquivel was taking the migrants to Deming, New Mexico, when he was pulled over, he told the agents. He picked up the migrants in El Paso, officials said.

He initially thought a police officer was pulling him over but then realized it was a Border Patrol agent by the markings on the agent's ballistic vest, the affidavit states. He told the agents that he hid the gun under his leg so the Border Patrol agent would not see it.

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Esquivel said he panicked when the agent asked him to get out of the car, so he pulled out the gun and fired at the agent, the affidavit states. He added the Smith & Wesson .40 caliber handgun found in the desert was the gun he used in the shooting.

In a second interview with agents, Esquivel said he transported migrants illegally in the country at least four times, the affidavit states. He said he would talk to the smuggler on the WhatsApp messaging application to arrange where he would pick up and drop off the migrants.

Esquivel said he was expecting to be paid "$300 a head" for each migrant he took to Deming, the affidavit states.

Aaron Martinez may be reached at amartinez1@elpasotimes.com or on Twitter @AMartinezEPT.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: El Paso man pleads guilty to shooting Border Patrol agent