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Warden of West Texas immigration detention center arrested in migrant’s death was previously accused of abusing detainees

By Alejandro Serrano, Uriel J. García and William Melhado, The Texas Tribune

Warden of West Texas immigration detention center arrested in migrant’s death was previously accused of abusing detainees” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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EL PASO — Two men shot two migrants, killing one and injuring another, earlier this week while the two victims stood along a West Texas road getting water, authorities said. One of the alleged shooters is reportedly a warden for a privately run immigration detention center.

Two brothers were arrested in connection to the shooting that occurred Tuesday on FM 1111 in Hudspeth County, approximately four miles south of Sierra Blanca, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. They were identified as Mike Thomas Sheppard and Mark Edward Sheppard, both 60.

The San Antonio Express-News reported that Mike Sheppard was the warden of the West Texas Detention Center, run by the Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections, a company that operates jails, prisons and immigration detention centers. Sheppard began working as a warden in 2015 at the West Texas facility, which has been the subject of several allegations of violence against immigrants, according to The Intercept.

The brothers, who were charged with manslaughter, were in a truck when they pulled over and shot at a group of migrants, according to DPS. Agents from the U.S. Border Patrol’s Sierra Blanca checkpoint were also called to help the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office “locate a female gunshot victim” around 9:15 p.m., a spokesperson for the federal agency said.

Hudspeth Sheriff Arvin West did not immediately return an email Thursday.

The vehicle linked to the shooting belonged to LaSalle Corrections, according to the Express-News. Border Patrol helped trace the truck and investigators discovered the vehicle was assigned to Mike Sheppard, according to the newspaper.

Scott Sutterfield, a spokesperson for LaSalle Corrections, said in a statement that Sheppard no longer worked for the company.

“The warden at the West Texas Detention Center (WTDC), Sierra Blanca, TX has been terminated due to an off-duty incident unrelated to his employment,” Sutterfield said.

A 2018 report found officials at the Sierra Blanca facility had grievously abused 80 men who were detained at the center. Over a week, the men faced beatings, racial taunts and sexual abuse at the hands of the center’s officials who were under the leadership of Mike Sheppard at the time. The Intercept reported the allegations more than four years ago.

Mike Sheppard was accused of punching a man in the face and kicking him while he was handcuffed on the ground in solitary confinement, according to The Intercept.

Before the 2018 incident, the West Texas facility came under scrutiny from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Detention Oversight, citing health services deficiencies and a lack of training on how to use nonlethal weapons. Inmates at the time resorted to using plastic bags for toilets and had to kill a rattlesnake found in their sleeping quarters when officials failed to respond.

Sutterfield did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Thursday about those previous allegations or Mike Sheppard’s continued employment after they were made.

As The Intercept reported in 2018, a report from three entities detailed African detainees’ allegations of abuse. It found that officers used racist epithets and engaged in hate crimes. It was unclear late Thursday what, if any, action federal officials took after the report was released and published in The Intercept.

It was not clear why Mike Sheppard and his brother were accused of manslaughter as opposed to another potential criminal charge this week. A DPS spokesperson referred further questions about the shooting to prosecutors in El Paso, where jail records show the two brothers were being held.

Court records, however, did not show either of the men had been formally charged as of Thursday afternoon with a crime.

A county court clerk in El Paso said there were no documents available yet because the men were recently booked.

The wounded individual, identified by DPS only as a female, was taken to Del Sol Hospital in El Paso, where she was recovering.

Jeanette Harper, an FBI special agent in El Paso, confirmed the agency had provided resources to Texas Rangers for an evidence recovery scene but deferred further comment to DPS as it was the leading investigative authority.

The New York Times, citing “affidavits filed by investigators,” reported the group was walking around 7 p.m. when they stopped at a water tank. The group hid when a truck approached.

The migrants later told federal agents they had heard one of the men shout in Spanish for them to “Come out,” according to the Times’ report. Eventually, the driver revved the truck’s engine, fired a gun, climbed back into the truck and drove away.

The men, per the Times, said in interviews with law enforcement that they had been out looking for animals to shoot.

Mark Sheppard said that they had stopped the truck because they believed they had spotted a javelina, according to the Times. He denied yelling anything.

In an unsigned email response Thursday evening, the El Paso district attorney’s office told the Tribune to contact DPS for the affidavits.

A DPS spokesperson said they did not have copies of the records to release.

Robert Downen contributed to this story.

Disclosure: New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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