By Tim Gaynor
(Reuters) - The family of slain Border Patrol agent Brian Terry has filed a $25 million wrongful-death claim against the U.S. government, saying he was killed because federal investigators allowed guns to fall into the hands of violent criminals.
Terry was shot dead in southern Arizona in December 2010 by suspected border bandits.
Two guns found at the scene were traced to a botched U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) sting operation that allowed weapons to slip across the border to Mexico. It was not clear, however, if those weapons fired the fatal shots.
The claim filed on behalf of Terry's parents, Kent Terry and Josephine Terry, alleges the ATF acted in violation of its own policies and negligently allowed the weapons to be bought by violent criminals.
"If not for a negligently conceived and executed ATF plan to direct dangerous firearms into the hands of violent criminals, Brian's murderers would have never had the weapons they used against him," said the claim, which names the ATF as being responsible.
"Because of ATF's negligence, a grieving family has lost forever their son and brother," it said.
Filing a claim is a required legal step before lodging a lawsuit. Reuters asked Lincoln Combs - one of attorneys with Phoenix law firm Gallagher & Kennedy representing the Terry family - if they would file a lawsuit, but he did not immediately respond.
The sting operation dubbed "Fast and Furious" ran from late 2009 to early 2011 out of the Phoenix offices of the ATF and the U.S. Attorney. The goal was to try to track guns being smuggled from the initial purchaser to senior drug cartel members.
However, in most cases ATF agents did not follow the guns beyond the initial buyer.
The case is subject to an ongoing inquiry in the U.S. Congress. Republicans have questioned who in President Barack Obama's administration knew about and approved the operation and its tactics and when. They have issued subpoenas for documents and for witnesses to testify.
Mexican authorities have complained about the flood of weapons coming into their country from the United States and contributing to the deadly war with the drug cartels.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta)