A Texas National Guard soldier who shot a migrant in the shoulder on Jan. 13 in Mission, Texas, won’t face civilian criminal charges despite conflicting accounts of the event, according to media reports and government officials.
Before the shooting occurred, Spc. Angel Gallegos chased migrants into an abandoned home alongside another soldier and a Border Patrol agent while assigned to Texas’ state-run border mission, Operation Lone Star, according to an internal Texas Military Department document previously obtained by Military Times and The Texas Tribune, and a law enforcement investigation report obtained by Stars & Stripes.
The Texas Rangers, an investigative arm of the state’s Department of Public Safety, led the investigation, which agency spokesperson Ericka Miller confirmed was complete. The agency also plays a major role in the border mission.
Miller referred further queries to the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office, which Stars & Stripes reported declined to bring charges against Gallegos. The county prosecutors, reached by Military Times, did not provide information on the case before this story’s publication deadline.
Gallegos told investigators he accidentally fired his M17 handgun during a physical struggle with migrant Ricardo Rodriguez Nieto, according to witness statements obtained by Stars & Stripes.
According to the internal document, which was based on initial statements from the soldiers, Rodriguez Nieto tried to flee through a window and fought Gallegos with his fists and elbows when the soldier tried to detain him.
But Rodriguez Nieto, who was unarmed, told a different story. Rodriguez Nieto claimed he was across the room from Gallegos when the soldier fired, according to Stars & Stripes, and other migrants detained at the scene did not describe an altercation in their statements. Neither the other soldier nor the Border Patrol agent witnessed the shooting.
The Texas Military Department, which oversees Guard members on the mission, did not respond to questions about military discipline for Gallegos. Although courts-martial are permitted under the Texas Code of Military Justice for troops activated in a state-controlled status, they are rare.
In an unsigned emailed statement, the agency told Military Times that soldiers “assigned to Operation Lone Star are authorized to use the minimum level of force necessary to control the situation and defend themselves or others.” But the statement did not address whether Gallegos was within those guidelines.
Gallegos is not the only soldier to accidentally fire his weapon while activated for Operation Lone Star, a multibillion-dollar mission intended to curb the number of migrants entering Texas. Spc. DaJuan Townes was killed by a colleague in an accidental shooting before a training event on Feb. 7, 2022, at Fort Clark Springs near Brackettville.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 7 at 2:59 p.m. EST with a statement from the Texas Military Department.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.