RIO RICO - A U.S. Border Patrol agent going for a coffee break at a truck stop in Rio Rico near Nogales shot a man who was about to throw a rock at him Wednesday morning, authorities said.
The incident happened when two agents and their supervisor saw a man hanging around the gas pumps at about 4 a.m. and went to question him because they suspected he was an illegal immigrant, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said. The man became belligerent, yelling at the agents and pointing his finger and while saying he was going to shoot them.
He picked up a rock and was about to throw it when one of the agents shot three times, hitting the man in the arm and grazing his torso, Estrada said.
The man continued to struggle with the agents and reach for more rocks while being subdued, Estrada said. He was flown to a Tucson hospital for treatment, but was conscious and expected to recover.
The agents had called for a deputy for help, and he was at the truck stop when the shooting happened. But Estrada said he was going back to his car to retrieve a flashlight when the shots were fired and did not witness the incident.
Estrada said investigators believe the man was either on drugs or mentally disturbed.
The unidentified agent who fired the shots is on paid administrative leave while the sheriff's department conducts an investigation.
Border Patrol spokesman Jesus Rodriguez said agents have the right to defend themselves.
"He had already picked up a rock and was preparing to throw it," Rodriguez said. "As you know, a rock can be just as deadly as any other kind of weapon.
Estrada said the man who was shot is about 30 and gave his name as Fernando Ramos Cholio. It wasn't clear if he is a citizen or a migrant.
The sheriff's office will investigate the shooting to determine if it was justified. That report will be sent to the Santa Cruz County Attorney for review, Estrada said.
Ramos may face charges of assaulting an agent, Estrada said. The FBI will handle that part of the investigation.