Eyewitness Video Raises Questions About Death At Border Crossing
The family of a man who died after federal agents shot him with a stun gun at the San Ysidro border crossing said they will file a civil lawsuit claiming wrongful death. Mexican President Felipe Calderon calls the incident, which happened two weeks ago, an unacceptable violation of human rights.
It's hard to see much on the video, which was shot at night on a mobile phone. Anastasio Hernandez is not visible. But you can definitely hear him. Federal agents detained Hernandez when he tried to enter the United States on May 28th. He was undocumented.
Humberto Navarette was at the San Ysidro border crossing when he heard Hernandez's screams. He ran towards the scene, and started to shoot video on his cell phone. Navarette said Hernandez was face down on the ground, his arms handcuffed behind him. One federal agent had a knee on his back; another had a knee on his neck.
"All the time Anastasio was screaming for help, I noticed that there was something wrong, because they didn't only have the knees on the back of his neck, but they were also hitting Anastasio on the ribs. Right and left side,” said Navarette.
Border patrol officials said Hernandez began fighting them as they tried to escort him back into Mexico. Navarette said that's not what he saw.
“I never saw Anastasio fighting. In fact I never saw him on his feet. All the time he was on the ground,” said Navarette.
Navarette said after a few minutes of watching agents on top of Hernandez, he saw more pull up to the scene. Next, they dragged Hernandez about 100 feet off to a dark area. Then, he saw an agent shoo the other officers away.
“This agent pulled out from his waist, pulled out what I recognized as a Taser, as a stun gun, and started tasing Anastasio on the ground,” said Navarette. (Story continues below)
He said the incident is deeply troubling from a number of standpoints. “Why was he moved away from where he was visible to other persons? Why was he then surrounded by approximately 20 federal agents? And finally, why, and for what possible reason, was there the administration of five separate shocks from a Taser?
The San Diego Police Department Homicide unit is investigating the Hernandez case. Lt. Kevin Rooney has seen the video. But he said it doesn't give him any new insight into what happened to Hernandez.
“We were already aware that he was yelling while he was struggling with the officers. So neither the fact that he was yelling, nor actually the words that he was saying, was a surprise to me,” said Rooney.
Nonetheless, Rooney said he's glad to have the video. “It's our responsibility to try to collect everything we can that sheds light on what happened. And our job is to organize that and collect it, and then present it to the United States Attorney,” said Rooney.
Rooney believes the police investigation should be completed by the end of the month.
Attorney Gene Iredale said he hopes the investigation is thorough and transparent. And that's not all.
"We hope that this tragic death will lead to training, to some attempt to insure that there is not the abuse and overuse of physical force, and especially of electronic force in the form of a Taser, that can result in death," said Iredale.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the FBI is now investigating the death of Anastasio Hernandez.