Disturbing new footage, aired on PBS, appearing to show federal agents beating and Tasering a handcuffed illegal immigrant hours before his death sheds new light on a case that has drawn scrutiny on the U.S. border patrol.
The case of Anastacio Hernandez Rojas gained national media attention in 2010 after he died following a confrontation with border patrol agents who were trying to deport him.
Rojas, 42, and his brother were caught on May 28 sneaking from Mexico into San Diego, where he lived for more than a decade.
Rojas' family said the new videos support their claim that the agents used excessive force on him during the arrest.
The videos were aired in a PBS report called “Need to Know” on Friday.
One clip appeared to show nearly a dozen agents hitting Rojas, then repeatedly shocking him with a stun gun as he lay handcuffed on the ground at a border crossing in San Ysidro, in San Diego County.
Seattle resident Ashley Young, who said she shot the video from a nearby footbridge, told PBS she didn't see Rojas resisting and felt like she was watching "someone be murdered."
"It has been two years since Anastacio was killed, and the medical examiner ruled it a homicide, and we are still fighting to get simple discovery," the family's attorney Eugene Iredale told Reuters.
"They applied 3,000 volts of electricity over and over to a helpless, handcuffed man and left him hogtied until he was brain-dead," he said.
In a grainy video clip shot in May 2010 on the California side of the U.S.-Mexico border, an illegal immigrant lies on the ground in a fetal position, circled by at least a dozen federal agents as one repeatedly shocks him with an electric stun gun.
The lawsuit, filed in January 2011, disputes federal authorities' assertions that he became combative, saying instead that Hernandez-Rojas became the victim of abuse when he asked to see an immigration judge. A border agent responded by slamming him against a wall and kicking him so hard in the ankles that it reopened a surgical wound in his lower leg.
Hernandez-Rojas was then driven to a border crossing at San Ysidro to be summarily deported, and was assaulted by a group of agents there when he again demanded medical attention and a hearing before a judge, the complaint says.
Shoved to the ground while handcuffed, Hernandez-Rojas was set upon by several agents who repeatedly punched, kicked and stomped on his head and body, then stood back as one officer administered a series of five electric shocks to him with a Taser, according to the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, agents then beat Hernandez-Rojas more and used plastic zip-ties to strap his ankles to his wrists, leaving him in that hog-tied position as he stopped breathing. He was resuscitated but died later at a hospital without ever regaining consciousness, the suit says.
San Diego Police Department investigators and the county medical examiner both ruled the death a homicide, according to the complaint, which names 12 federal agents and the government as defendants.
But the U.S. attorney overseeing the case cited a coroner's finding of methamphetamine in Hernandez-Rojas' body and said the agents' action was appropriate in responding to "assaultive, violent and out-of-control conduct" by Hernandez-Rojas.
The previously undisclosed footage, obtained by a lawyer for the man's family in a wrongful-death suit brought against the U.S. government, appears in a Public Broadcasting Service television documentary set to air nationally on Friday night.
The police investigation and the medical examiner cited this as a homicide. However, it's been pointed that drugs were found in his system.
Did having drugs in his system (how much, or whether they were even still active has not been released) justify this use of force that led to his death?
They claim that he was combative, and the police tazing him repeatedly screams "STOP RESISTING" as he tazes him multiple times. However, from the video taken, you can see that Rojas was on the ground handcuffed.
When you have a dozen police officers surrounding a handcuffed man on the ground, does the handcuffed man pose so much of a threat that this much force needs to be used?
What seems frightening from the claim that he was being combative, and the officer screaming "stop resisting" as he shocked the man to death, all the while seeing that the man is on the ground surrounded by trained professionals. If laying on the ground handcuffed and squirming/yelling is grounds for this level of force, we have a problem. It seems as if police know that they have a free card to use any level of force, up to and including killing someone, if they "feel they are in danger" or if the subject is "resisting". Can a police officer simply yell "stop resisting!" and kill a person, when all the person is doing is squirming on the ground? It seems so...