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Family of slain border agent sues federal officials

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - The parents of a slain U.S. Border Patrol agent have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in connection with the botched "Fast and Furious" federal sting operation that saw guns purchased in the United States slip to suspected criminals in Mexico.

The lawsuit, which names federal officials and a federal prosecutor as defendants, was filed in federal court in Arizona and seeks unspecified damages for Brian Terry's 2010 death in a shootout with suspected border bandits in southern Arizona.

Terry's slaying set off a political firestorm when it brought to light the botched probe by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into gun trafficking that let more than 2,000 weapons slip across the border into Mexico.

The operation had been envisioned as a way to track guns from buyers to senior Mexican drug cartel members. Federal agents who ran "Fast and Furious" focused on building cases against the leaders of a trafficking ring, and did not pursue low-level buyers of those firearms.

Two firearms found at the scene of Terry's death were traced to the operation, although it was not clear if the bullets that killed him came from either weapon.

The lawsuit filed by Terry's parents, Kent and Josephine Terry, names six ATF supervisors and agents in the Phoenix office as defendants, along with Emory Hurley, who as assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona helped run the operation.

"The ATF defendants and defendant Hurley knew or should have known that their actions would cause substantial injuries, significant harm and even death to Mexican and American civilians and law enforcement, but were recklessly indifferent to the consequences of their actions," the lawsuit, which was made public on Friday, stated.

It also named Lone Wolf Trading Company, a Phoenix-area gun store where gun sales took place under the operation, as a defendant.

Terry's family had submitted a $25 million claim against the federal government in February in a step that was legally required before filing the lawsuit.

A report in September from the U.S. Justice Department's inspector general found inadequate supervision of "Fast and Furious" and faulted its tactics. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year voted to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt in a dispute over the withholding of certain documents related to the operation.

Tom Mangan, an ATF spokesman in Phoenix, declined comment on the lawsuit, as did a representative for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona.

Five Mexican men have been charged in Terry's killing, two of whom are in custody while three remain at-large.

Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, one of the men in custody, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the case in October under a deal with prosecutors that spared him the possibility of the death penalty.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)

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