Authorities have identified a convicted human smuggler accused of throwing a softball-sized rock at a U.S. Border Patrol agent and hitting him in the face Sunday.
The incident unfolded around 7 p.m. Sunday near Jacumba when suspect Martel Valencia-Cortez, 39, was allegedly trying to smuggle 14 people across the border, according to Border Patrol agents. Authorities said Valencia-Cortez, a Mexican national, has been involved in a series of smuggling incidents over nearly 20 years.
As the group crossed the border on foot Sunday, trekking through wet, sub-40 degree weather in the remote terrain on Carries Mountain, they encountered Border Patrol agents, authorities said.
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Valencia-Cortez fled toward higher ground as agents chased him, according to Border Patrol. When agents closed the gap, they said, Valencia-Cortez allegedly turned around and hurled a softball-sized rock at them.
The rock hit an agent in the face, and in response, the agent fired multiple rounds from his government-issued handgun. He was later treated for a facial injury.
Agents said Valencia-Cortez fled on foot to Mexico. They do not believe he was shot. Authorities apprehended the 14 people allegedly being smuggled into the country.
Imperial County Sheriff’s Department, Customs and Border Protection Office of Internal Affairs, and the U.S. Border Patrol are investigating the incident.
Officials have issued a federal arrest warrant for Valencia-Cortez, who is described as 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds with black hair and brown eyes. Authorities said he has a tattoo on his right shoulder.
Agents said Valencia-Cortez has been involved in numerous human smuggling incidents dating back to 1997. He was involved in at least one manhunt as a result, NBC7 previously reported. Court records describe Valencia-Cortez as a "known foot guide, load vehicle driver and alien smuggling facilitator." He has more than 35 prior apprehensions by Border Patrol agents and was convicted of human smuggling in Mexico.
Agents said Valencia-Cortez has been known to carry a firearm during smuggling attempts and consider him to be armed and dangerous. In the past, agents said, he has been known to resort to violence and evade arrests. He was released from federal custody in September after serving a three-year sentence for alien smuggling.