This is the first story in a three-part series. Catch the second installment Tuesday on News 4 at 6.
The call no parent ever wants to get startled Kim Lewis in April, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials asked to meet with her as soon as possible.
On April 2, her son, Joel Inbody, 32, of West Seneca, passed a federal checkpoint in New Mexico without stopping. Border agents pursued Inbody by car and on foot for almost an hour, before fatally shooting him in a New Mexico desert after he struck an agent with a wooden tire knocker.
Three agents fired at least 16 shots, striking Inbody multiple times.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection released portions of body-cam footage and a narrative that month stating Inbody passed by the checkpoint at about 40 mph.
Inbody briefly stopped his vehicle, but agents were unable to break his window, and he pulled away at a slow speed.
Inbody eventually exited his car after a spike strip popped his vehicle’s tires, and he walked away from the agents pursuing him. The agents noticed he was carrying a wooden stick and ordered him to the ground.
But Inbody kept walking, and agents followed him through the desert as they shouted orders. The three agents fired at Inbody after he swung the tire knocker at another approaching agent.
Lewis, of Alden, and her attorney, Tom Casey, believe the agents could have handled the incident differently. They want answers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but the agency has remained mum as it investigates the incident.
“I can’t understand why they would let this happen this way,” Lewis said. “Why they wouldn’t have figured out a different way to deal with this.”
* * *
In the first of a three-part series, News 4 Investigates looks at what happened April 2 based on body-cam footage released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency and other records.
Lewis said her son was a smart, compassionate man who had never been in any trouble. He was close to completing a doctoral program when he endured a stressful situation that triggered his bipolar disorder and PTSD.
She had not seen Inbody for 12 days before the shooting, and suspected he had mental health issues when he encountered border agents that night.
Agents tried twice to use an electric control device to get Inbody to comply with their demands, but Inbody blocked the prongs. At least six agents continued to follow Inbody, when one approached him from his right side, but tripped, as Inbody swung the wooden stick.
In a prepared statement, CBP said Inbody “continued advancing toward the agent, who was now on the ground, swung the wooden club a third time and struck the agent. The driver struck the agent a second time as he stood over him and was preparing to do so again when three other agents fired their service weapons, striking the driver.”
CBP’s investigation of the incident is ongoing, as is a separate one by Homeland Security’s inspector general.
“My real big question is why weren’t they knowledgeable enough to comprehend that they are dealing with someone with a mental health issue?” said Casey.
* * *
Part 2 of the series involves critical analysis of the shooting by one of the country’s leading experts on law enforcement use of force. It is scheduled to air at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Part 3 of the series focuses on Inbody’s mental health and how that complicated the incident with border agents. It is scheduled to air at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and will be accompanied by a full web article.
Luke Moretti is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2002. See more of his work here.