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Border Officials To Review San Ysidro Taser Death Of Mexican Immigrant

Aired 3/10/16 on KPBS News.

A use-of-force review board with U.S. Customs and Border Protection will meet Thursday on the man's death in a confrontation with more than a dozen border officers. The incident went viral after bystanders made public cellphone videos of the confrontation.

A photo album shows Anastasio Hernandez Rojas with two of his children at Coronado beach, his favorite place, May 15, 2015.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin reviewing on Thursday the death of a Mexican immigrant who was killed in a confrontation with more than a dozen border officers. The 2010 incident at the San Ysidro Port of Entry went viral after bystanders made public cellphone videos of the confrontation.

The agency's new use-of-force board will determine if the actions of the officers that led to Anastasio Hernandez Rojas' death was in line with policy or if there was misconduct. While handcuffed, he was shot repeatedly with a Taser. Border Patrol agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers were involved in the incident.

The board will make recommendations to Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske regarding what lessons can be learned from the incident, including potential changes in policy, training or equipment. In an emailed statement, the agency said it would make the findings public but did not say when.

Hernandez’s widow, Maria Puga, said she wants the agency to admit wrongdoing because she believes it will help her children move on.

“It’s a way of lightening their load. I’ve always said, maybe nobody’s going to jail, but maybe I can say, ‘this change was made because of this fight, and your father’s death was not in vain,'" Puga said.

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute last year, saying it lacked sufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal charges against the border agents and customs officers involved in Hernandez’s death.

Maria Puga discusses the death of her husband, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, March 9, 2016.

The use-of-force review board was established in 2014 to increase accountability and transparency for the agency, in response to allegations of excessive use of force. Puga said she thinks this is the agency's last chance to provide her family with justice.

"We have to trust in them a little bit and just hope they don't fail us again," Puga said. "Because imagine if they review again, and once more say their agents are not guilty, when we know they're guilty."

She said other immigrant families who have lost relatives in violent incidents with Border Patrol agents look to her case with hope, because it's one of the few with video evidence.

Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee, said the board's reaction to Hernandez's case will be revealing.

"We'll be able to decide whether it's an effective review board or of it's just rubber-stamping the other decisions that have been made in other departments and investigations," he said.

Hernandez, who had been deported after living in San Diego for about two decades, was trying to cross the border illegally to reunite with his wife and five children when border agents stopped him.

His autopsy by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office showed he had several broken ribs, loosened teeth and internal bleeding. Hernandez, whose death was ruled a homicide, also had methamphetamine in his blood.

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