Judge denies border agents’ claims that they are immune from suit
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 7, 2014
Ricardo Favela, 760.468.4519, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim Rescate, email@example.com
San Diego, CA: The district court judge presiding over the civil case involving the family of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas has cleared the way for trial and denied the claims of border agents’ that they are immune from the lawsuit. The federal government filed a motion arguing that the border agents involved in the use of force against Anastasio are immune from civil liability, asserting that their conduct did not violate any constitutional rights. The judge disagreed, dismissed the government’s claim and cleared the way for the civil case to go to trial. Anastasio was a long-time San Diego resident and a father of 5 who was beaten and shot repeatedly with a taser by border agents resulting in his death near the San Ysidro Port of Entry in May 2010.
Maria Puga, widow of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas will be available for comment today between 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. at Alliance San Diego, 3750 30th Street, San Diego, CA 92104. An interpreter will be available on-site for English speaking media.
The family of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, the family’s lawyer, and human rights activists see this latest development as a positive breakthrough in the civil case and made the following statements:
Maria Puga (widow of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas) states:
The Hernandez family is appreciative and content with the judge’s decision. This is great news that will allow for the truth to be told. We have been struggling and waiting for justice for four years and it seems that it has not been in vain.
Criminal Defense Lawyer Eugene G. Iredale, representing the family states:
We are gratified that the Court denied the Defendants’ motions in their entirety. We look forward to going to trial and the revelation of the truth of what happened to Anastasio.
Christian Ramirez, Human Rights Director at Alliance San Diego and Director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition states:
The story of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas has shed light on the culture of abuse and impunity that exist within the nation’s largest law enforcement agency. After his story became known to the world, no longer could CBP hide behind the veil of secrecy that put them above the law. Border communities are determined to see justice in the case of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas and put an end to abusive behavior of an out-of-control force. This ruling is a significant step in the pursuit of justice, but justice will truly be served when Customs and Border Protection agents who abuse their authority are held accountable for their actions and the shameful legacy of violence and impunity inside the nation’s largest law-enforcement agency comes to an end.
Background: In May 2010, San Diego resident and father, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, was brutally beaten and killed by over a dozen border agents at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Anastasio’s beating and calls for help were video-recorded with cell phone cameras by several passersby. The video captured the scene of over a dozen officers surrounding Anastasio who was handcuffed and hogtied while he was beaten and shot with a Taser five times. The Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Anastasio’s death a homicide and experts have described the incident as torture.
Border agents made attempts to confiscate and delete footage. The most damaging video was released 2 years after the incident took place and aired nationally on PBS’ Need to Know. The tragic event brought national attention to the brutality and lack of accountability within U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which houses Border Patrol.
After the show aired, the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) traveled with Anastasio’s family to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress and ask for their help in pursuing justice not only for the killing of Anastasio, but the killings of other border residents. As a result of this advocacy, 16 members of Congress sent letters to the Department of Homeland Security, the Inspector General and the Department of Justice expressing concern over Anastasio Hernandez Rojas’ death. The letter asked about investigations, accountability and oversight in regards to cases of excessive use-of-force. The Department of Justice responded by convening a Grand Jury in July of 2012, yet after two years, no information about this jury has been made public.
As a result of the mounting pressure, the Department of Homeland Security commissioned the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a respected group that sets the standards for best practices in law enforcement, to review CBP’s use-of-force practices. Although PERF completed its review in February 2013, CBP refused to release the findings. Under pressure from border communities and members of Congress, CBP finally released the PERF report in May 2014.
The PERF report found systemic problems within CBP including inadequate training and negligence in investigating cases of abuse. The report made recommendations for agents to avoid the use lethal force and specifically cautioned against the use of a Taser (also known as an electronic control weapon) unless necessary to control the subject. PERF concluded that a subject is to be shocked no more than 3 times for no more than 5 seconds each. In the case of Anastasio’s beating, he was shocked with a Taser 5 times with at least one of the shocks lasting up to 12 seconds. An additional shock was applied directly to the body known as a “dry stun” which is intended to be a form of punishment rather than a of means of control.
Anastasio Hernandez Rojas’ story is known nationally and especially along the border region and has helped shed light on the abusive practices of CBP officers. Recently, CBP’s new commissioner, R. Gil Kerlikowske, has publicly recognized the need for transparency, accountability and oversight within the agency.
Border communities are asking for the placement of body-worn camera on all border officers as a measurable commitment to ending the culture of violence and impunity with the nation’s largest law enforcement agency. Having the ability to capture video recordings of incidents and encounters with the public will strengthen law enforcement accountability and provide real means of oversight to the public.
The civil case brought by Anastasio’s family is expected to be scheduled for trial in 2015.
Download: Hernandez Rojas Order
The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) brings together more than 60 organizations from San Diego, California, to Brownsville, Texas, to ensure that border enforcement policies and practices are accountable and fair, respect human dignity and human rights, and prevent the loss of life in the region.