ICE Agent Wounded in 2011 Cartel Ambush Will Revive Litigation Against U.S. Government

Victor Avila targeting federal officials who oversaw Fast and Furious operation

Special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement question a man while his vehicle is searched
Special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement question a man while his vehicle is searched / Getty Images

A former Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent who survived a 2011 Mexican drug cartel ambush that left an American officer dead is moving to resurrect litigation against the U.S. government to force the release of records that could shed light on the events leading up to the attack.

Victor Avila, who retired from ICE in 2015, has accused his supervisors of ignoring a State Department security alert that prohibited U.S. officials from traveling on a central Mexico highway, where former special agent Jaime Zapata was later killed.

Avila and the Zapata family seek to resolve why the agents, who arrived in Mexico only days prior to the attack, were sent unescorted on a notorious, gang-ridden highway to retrieve equipment from other ICE officers that Avila said could have "easily" been delivered by alternative means.

Congress has also demanded testimony from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) after the Justice Department's inspector general reported in March that two of the guns used to murder Zapata were trafficked by buyers in Dallas, Texas, who were under surveillance by the ATF but never arrested.

"I speak on behalf of the Zapata family in saying that we want answers to those questions that we never received," Avila told the Washington Free Beacon over the phone.

Avila and Zapata's parents have a pending civil suit against the government alleging that federal officials covered up how the cartel members obtained the weapons used in the attack. The suit, filed in 2013, targets ATF officials who supervised the Fast and Furious gun-running operation in which the agency lost track of about 2,000 guns after allowing straw buyers to traffic them into Mexico.

The suit also accuses ICE supervisors in Mexico of negligence in sending Avila and Zapata on a "known-to-be-dangerous" highway without adequate equipment and training.

Last week, Avila met with attorneys of the nonprofit organization Judicial Watch to file additional Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act requests to obtain documents related to the ambush.

Chris Farrell, director of Judicial Watch investigations, said the organization was providing advice and assistance to Avila but had not yet taken up his case. Farrell said Avila has legal grounds to press the government for answers, adding that the group will likely take up his case in the near future.

Avila testified publicly on the shootout for the first time last month during the federal trial of two accused Los Zetas drug cartel hit men who participated in the attack.

A U.S. jury on Thursday convicted Jesus Ivan Quezada Piña, 28, and Alfredo Gaston Mendoza Hernandez, 33, in the slaying of Zapata and attempted murder of Avila. The guilty verdicts brought the number of Los Zetas cartel members convicted by the federal government of participating in the failed carjacking attempt that resulted in the killing of Zapata to seven.

A sentencing date will be set during a status hearing on Aug. 29. All face up to life in prison.

"There's still room for justice," Avila said, noting that he and the Zapata family will seek life sentences for all perpetrators in the attack.