Video released Tuesday shows a Border Patrol agent shooting a Taser into a car moments before flames erupt from inside, killing the driver as agents looked on.
The family of the victim, Alex Martin, is suing the federal government, claiming the Taser caused the eruption of flames that killed their son. The disturbing video, caught on a dashboard camera in an agent’s vehicles, is part of the evidence in that case.
The family’s attorney Gene Iredale said Martin had been driving for 22 hours on his way back from Texas when he got lost in Pine Valley, California, in March 2012. According to court documents, Border Patrol agents tried to pull him over for driving the wrong way on Interstate 8.
But Iredale told NBC 7 Tuesday that the pursuing agents were all in plain clothes and unmarked cars, so Martin did not stop. For about three minutes, Martin led the agents on a high-speed pursuit that ended when he drove over spike strips that deflated his tires.
Martin, who had pulled over on the side of the road, had no way of knowing the men approaching him were law enforcement, Iredale claims.
“These agents approached in unmarked cars, in plain clothes and never identified themselves by the display of badges or even the simple statement ‘Border Patrol,’” the attorney said.
In the video, a plainclothes agent is seen using a flashlight to break the passenger side window. He then raises up his Taser and shoots inside. Immediately, an explosion rocks the car, throwing the agent against the hillside behind him.
Iredale believes a container of gas had spilled in the car, so the stun gun ignited the flammable liquid. He alleges the agent should have smelled the gas fumes wafting out of the car and known not to shoot his Taser.
Martin burned to death. The video shows that instead of trying to save him, all of the agents pulled their vehicles away from the scene.
“All three of those cars had large fire extinguishers in them and standard equipment,” Iredale said. “Not one of these agents ever even tried to spray any of the fire extinguisher solution on that car.”
In a previous interview with NBC 7, Gabriel Pacheco, a lead Border Patrol union representative, called the incident a high risk one to agents. The agent who shot the Taser suffered minor burns to his face.
Pacheco said all Border Patrol procedures were followed in the pursuit and stop. Martin’s death could have been avoided if he had pulled over in the first place and complied with agents, according to the representative.
However, Iredale claims the Border Patrol agents were not following their own protocol by failing to identify themselves. He pointed out a moment in the video, several minutes after the explosion, where one of the agents walks to the side of the road and appears to reach something.
When he is shown on camera again, he is wearing what appears to be a badge -- something he was not wearing before when they pulled over Martin.
“This was a senseless act in a senseless way for somebody who had violated no law and who lost their life needlessly,” said Iredale.
Iredale told NBC 7 that Border Patrol initially said the video was gone, recorded over by other footage. However, the FBI's forensic division used its technology to pull out the video from that March day.
In the latest lawsuit update, the federal government has filed a motion to get the judge to dismiss the case entirely. According to Iredale, that decision should be made in 30 to 60 days.
NBC 7 has reached out to Border Patrol about this story, but a spokesperson said they cannot comment because this is an ongoing case.
The federal court records state that this was not the first time Martin resisted law enforcement, describing an incident nine months prior when Martin fled the scene of a DUI hit-and-run accident in Texas, leading officers on a high speed pursuit then. When he staggered out of his pickup truck during that incident, police found a .38 caliber pistol and ammunition, according to the court records.