Calls For Justice In Tasing Death At The Hands Of Border Agents
Friday, May 4, 2012
Aired 5/4/12 on KPBS News.
Activists launched a national campaign asking the Justice Department to investigate the 2010 death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas.
SAN DIEGO In May 2010, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, 42, lay brain dead in the hospital. The day before, San Diego Border Patrol agents had caught him trying to illegally cross the Mexican border back into San Diego, where he had lived and raised a family for almost three decades before being deported.
The agents processing him for deportation said Rojas became violent, forcing them to use a stun gun to subdue him. He had a heart attack, lost oxygen to his brain, and died in the hospital.
The San Diego County coroner ruled his death a homicide and the Justice Department began an investigation. But two years later, no one's been charged and the Justice Department has remained silent on its progress.
Now, activists are renewing their calls for the Justice Department to complete that investigation, after a new video emerged showing more than a dozen agents surrounding Rojas as he lay nearly motionless on the ground while one agent appears to fire repeated electrical currents into his body.
The pedestrian video was tracked down by John Carlos Frey, an activist and documentary filmmaker, and broadcast on a recent episode of PBS’ “Need to Know.”
It shows border agents yelling at Rojas to stop resisting, even though he's lying virtually motionless on the ground.
After the tasing, several agents descend on him before the video ends.
“No man, no human being, should be treated with the indignity and the brutality that Anastasio was treated,” said Christian Ramirez, the leader of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, an advocacy group.
The group has launched a national campaign to bring renewed attention to Rojas’ case in light of the video.
On Thursday, about 150 people marched from San Diego’s Balboa Park to downtown carrying signs bearing Rojas’ likeness. Activists organized similar events in eight cities nationwide, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston.
As of yet, they’ve been unsuccessful in eliciting responses from either the Customs and Border Protection Agency or the Justice Department.
In brief statements, spokeswomen for each agency declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing investigation.
Still, while activists and Rojas’ family have grown increasingly frustrated with the investigation’s pace, another recent case suggests the pace of Rojas’ may not be extraordinary.
Ballad for Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, by Juventino Flores.
Last week, the Justice Department closed another two-year-old case, involving a Border Patrol agent in El Paso who shot and killed a boy who was throwing stones from the Mexican side of the border. The Department said it wouldn't prosecute the agent because he’d acted to defend himself.
But here in San Diego, Rojas’ widow Maria Puga said she won’t quit her campaign until those who took her husband's life are held accountable.
She said her five children still struggle to understand what happened to their father, and miss trips to the beach as a family.
“Who knows what those people were thinking at that moment,” she said. “They were very cruel. I want there to be justice.”
Others are joining her in that call, like Juventino Flores. He wrote a Mexican norteno ballad for his childhood friend a week after he died, and has started performing it.
“More than 15 uniformed men,” he sings. “They beat his already still body. They all killed him. You could see their anger as they beat him. They didn’t let him live so that he couldn’t tell what happened.”
But this week, as activists organized nationally, a growing number of people took to the streets, saying they were determined to tell what Anastasio Hernandez Rojas could not.