Editor's note: This story contains offensive language.
A jail warden for a private detention center and his twin brother were arrested in connection with the shooting death of a man in an attack on a group of migrants in Hudspeth County, authorities said.
Mike Thomas Sheppard and Mark Edward Sheppard, both 60, were booked into the El Paso County Jail on manslaughter charges on Sept. 29, according to jail records. Mike Sheppard was the warden at the West Texas Detention Center operated by LaSalle Corrections.
The affidavit obtained by the El Paso Times states that at 7 p.m. Tuesday a group of migrants was drinking water out of a reservoir when a vehicle passed the group and then returned. The driver leaned on the hood of the vehicle and fired two shots, killing a man and injuring a woman. The agents located the vehicle and questioned its owner, Michael Sheppard. They subsequently questioned Mark Sheppard. After initial denials, he admitted the brothers were together the evening of Sep. 27 near the site of the shooting.
The migrants told investigators while they hid they "overheard one of the males shout something in Spanish to the effect of 'Come out you son-of-a-bitch, little asses!,'" the affidavit states.
The migrants told investigators they heard a vehicle rev "at which point they heard two gunshots with one of them stating they had been shot."
According to a spokesperson for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in El Paso, there were 13 migrants in the group, including one accompanied minor. The agency said the group was all Mexican nationals. In interviews with federal agents, members of the group said the pair of men yelled profanities at them. The migrants who survived the shooting are in custody pending court hearings. The injured woman is at El Paso's Del Sol Hospital in stable condition.
The Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office initially reported the shooting death. In addition to Texas Rangers, HSI El Paso special agents responded to the incident.
The men were booked on manslaughter charges Thursday but a statement Friday from HSI in El Paso indicated more charges may be forthcoming. Authorities have not released further details about court proceedings but the 205th District Court in El Paso confirmed the case is in their jurisdiction.
"HSI El Paso, in collaboration with the U.S. Border Patrol, FBI, Texas Rangers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office, will continue to pursue all investigative leads concerning the shooting, and will pursue state murder charges and any other potential federal crimes," the spokesperson said.
The shooting took place approximately four miles south of Sierra Blanca on FM1111, a two lane-road that travels through Sierra Blanca north to Highway 62/180.
Suspect Mike Sheppard was the warden of the West Texas Detention Center in Sierra Blanca, which has a capacity of 1,053 detainees. La Salle Corrections, a private prison company that operates the facility, has not responded to a request for comment.
Brothers changed story to investigators
According to the affidavit, victim interviews helped agents identify the suspects. Based on descriptions of the vehicle, investigators checked cameras and found a match in a database. The vehicle was located at Mike Sheppard’s residence in Sierra Blanca.
“We asked him about the incident involving the illegal immigrants and he was reluctant to speak with us about it and left,” a Texas Ranger wrote in the affidavit.
After Mike Sheppard left, they spoke with Mark Sheppard, who initially denied being in the location where the shooting took place. He then changed his story and said he was hunting with his brother that night.
“Mark Sheppard told us they stopped at Fivemile Tank and said they were looking for ducks, then changed it to birds and then to Javelinas,” the affidavit said. “Mark Sheppard told us he used binoculars and saw a ‘black butt’ thinking it was a Javelina.”
Mark Sheppard said Mike Sheppard then fired two rounds from a shotgun.
“Mark Sheppard told us he asked Michael Sheppard something to the effect of ‘did you get him?’. Mark Sheppard then changed ‘him’ to ‘it,” the ranger wrote.
Mark Sheppard said he heard on the radio that a migrant had been shot but did not go to the authorities to report he had been in the area.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar calls for hate crime investigation
The attack comes as Texas responds to a record number of asylum seekers and other border-crossers. Democratic politicians spoke out against the attack, linking it to the anti-immigrant rhetoric proliferating in Texas politics.
"I would like the DOJ to investigate this as a hate crime," U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said during a Friday briefing and questioned why the men were booked on manslaughter charges.
"Migrants fleeing persecution in their home countries should not have to fear for their lives here." Escobar tweeted. "I'm devastated by this news out of Hudspeth County. Time and time again inflammatory, demonizing Republican rhetoric turns into action."
“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 Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa.
"Texas LULAC sounds a strong warning that our community has reached the point of no return. There can be no open season on Hispanics without consequences to those who encourage it, participate in these acts, or look the other way in the name of God while murder is committed," said Rudy Rosales, State Director of Texas League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
The Sierra Blanca case was followed by a shooting along Interstate 10 near Fort Hancock late Wednesday morning. It was unclear if the two incidents were interconnected as the multi-agency investigation continued Thursday. Texas DPS investigators arrested 26-year-old Erick Garibaldi of Fort Hancock, who is accused of shooting a man found along Interstate 10 with a gunshot wound to the face outside the town located about a half-hour east of El Paso, officials said Thursday.
Reporting contributed by Lauren Villagran
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Brothers Mike and Mark Sheppard arrested in migrant shooting death