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Border & Immigration

No Charges In 2010 Death Of Mexican Man At San Ysidro Border

Anastasio Hernandez Rojas stands with two of his children at a Coronado beach in this undated photograph.
Nicholas McVicker
Anastasio Hernandez Rojas stands with two of his children at a Coronado beach in this undated photograph.

The Justice Department will not bring criminal charges in the death of a Mexican man who was shocked by U.S. border authorities with a stun gun five years ago, federal officials announced Friday in closing their investigation.

The May 2010 death of 42-year-old Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas raised complaints of excessive force, including from the then-president of Mexico, and investigators from the Justice Department examined the case for evidence of a civil rights violation.

But federal officials said their review didn't find enough evidence to support a criminal prosecution. They said they accepted the agents' contention that the force they used was reasonable and necessary to restrain Hernandez-Rojas when he was "noncompliant and physically assaultive."

The altercation began as Hernandez-Rojas, who officials said had been caught coming into the U.S. illegally, was being returned to Tijuana, Mexico through the busy San Ysidro border crossing.

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According to the Justice Department, Hernandez-Rojas began fighting with the agents once his handcuffs were removed and struggled and kicked at them as they tried to restrain him. A Customs and Border Protection officer used a stun gun on him, after which his breathing slowed and he became unresponsive, federal officials said.

He died a couple days later after being removed from life support.

Autopsies show that Hernandez-Rojas suffered a heart attack during the confrontation, though heart disease, electric shocks from the stun gun and methamphetamine intoxication were all described as contributing factors, the Justice Department said.

Hernandez-Rojas' widow, Maria Puga, said she was still trying to absorb the news.

“We all know that they’re guilty, there are videos and witnesses, but it seems that wasn’t enough for the government," Puga said. "Our whole family is very disillusioned and frustrated with this ruling.”

She said the family is now seeking justice on an international level through the Inter-American Commission Of Human Rights.

Christopher Rice Wilson, associate director of Alliance San Diego, said he believes the prosecutors' argument against filing charges is weak.

"We are deeply saddened by this decision. We don't find any justice in it," Wilson said. "It does show a tendency toward the disregard of the human rights for immigrants, for people seeking a better life."

Mexico's Foreign Relations Department said in a statement that it "deeply regrets and rejects with the greatest energy the decision announced today by the Justice Department."

The decision "contradicts the spirit of cooperation promoted by the governments of both our countries" and "will add to the perception that improper acts by law enforcement authorities will remain unpunished," the Foreign Relations Department said.

To bring a federal civil rights case, the Justice Department would have had to have shown that the federal officers intentionally deprived Hernandez-Rojas of his civil rights through using excessive force — a challenging legal standard.

"Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation," the Justice Department said in a statement.

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