Unless you lived in San Diego, California in 2010, you'd be forgiven for not knowing who Anastacio Hernandez-Rojas was. Though his life ended in a Rodney King-ish style of police brutality that usually causes the media to go insane with wall to wall coverage, the national press had little if anything to say about it. Most coverage came two years later in 2012 by Democracy Now and PBS, when videos taken by witnesses were brought forward.
Yet most still to this day have never heard of him. Until now, that is, because the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights agreed on May 10, 2017 to take his case on behalf of his family. They have finally filed a complaint with the Trump Administration, leaving officials with three months to respond.
Anastacio came to the United States when he was only fifteen years old. He came here like every other immigrant: to find a better life. Eventually, he found work in construction and he married his love, Maria. Together they raised five children; all of them U.S. citizens. Maria would describe her husband as a hard worker and loving partner and father. But the American dream was not always so easy for them. Sometimes, like in most families, money got tight.
So it was that Anastacio found himself stealing groceries one day in order to feed the kids.
Arrested and sent back to Mexico after two weeks, he located his brother and made a plan to come back to his family in America. Without any immigration documents, Anastacio and Pedro would have to jump the southern border fence and outrun the Border Patrol to get back to Maria and their children. He had rent to pay and mouths to feed. A fence, a man made line in the dirt meant very little to him as it would to anyone if wearing his shoes. But Anastacio's bad luck streak was not done with him yet. The Migra (slang Spanish for Border Patrol) quickly snatched him up and took him to the Chula Vista station in south San Diego for processing and what was intended to be a fast voluntary return back to Mexico on May 28, 2010.
I wouldn't be writing this story today if things had gone smoothly for him. According to the Inter-American Commission complaint, Border Patrol Agent Gabriel Ducoing became angry with Anastacio for pouring a bottle of water out into the trash. He pushed Anastacio into a wall and kicked his feet apart as is often done when cops arrest someone. Unbeknownst to the agent, Anastacio had steel pins in his ankle from a surgery, and the kick re-injured it.
His brother, Pedro, stated that Anastacio cried out in pain as Agent Ducoing handcuffed him to a bench. For several hours, Anastacio requested medical assistance for his ankle and demanded an immigration hearing before a judge, but his pleas were ignored. Hours later, Supervisor Ismael Finn ordered Agents Ducoing and Krasielwicz to pay no attention to his pleas for medical attention and a hearing even though being denied a hearing when requested is a clear violation of the law. They were ordered to take him to the San Ysidro border and make him return to Mexico.
Once at the port of entry, the agents uncuffed Anastacio telling him to place his hands on his head as they did so. According to the agents, he instead placed his hands at his waist and in their own words stated he was "moving around too much." Ducoing and Krasielwicz grabbed Anastacio and a fight ensued. Two other ICE agents from the port of entry ran over to assist. Andre Piligrino and Harinzo Narainesigh pulled their steal batons and repeatedly hit Anastacio in his stomach and diaphragm until the other two agents yelled for them to stop. Apparently, the baton swinging was so out of control, agents were hitting each other.
After handcuffing him again, the agents attempted to put Anastacio back into the truck but Anastacio resisted by putting his feet against the sides. Agents then threw him to the ground and began punching, stomping and kicking him with their boots while his hands were handcuffed behind his back. A crowd began to gather nearby and above the agents on the walkway. They filmed the incident with their phones and cameras. Anastacio's screams for help can be heard on these videos.
Witnesses testified that fifteen to twenty agents showed up and dragged him behind the vehicle in an effort to hide him from the cameras. They were unaware of the cameras above them that clearly showed agents surrounding Anastacio, kicking and punching and then kneeling on his head and his chest. Agent Jerry Vales can then be seen tasering the victim four times even though he was still handcuffed and laying motionless in the fetal position. Before one taser, Agent Vales can be seen standing over a motionless Anastacio screaming, "Stop resisting!"
Agents were ordered to seize as many cell phones and cameras as they could from witnesses, while others hog-tied Ignacio's feet to his hands. He went into convulsions and stopped breathing a full two minutes before agents attempted CPR.
According to the Inter-American Commission's complaint, two separate autopsies showed that Anastacio Hernandez-Rojas died of a heart attack and brain damage brought on by the severe beating and Dr. Wagner noted:
"...blunt force injuries of the forehead, right side of face, lips, flank, abdomen, hands and lower legs . . . The abdominal injury which shows underlying soft tissue hemorrhage is consistent with a collapsible baton strike. . . The puncture marks over the right flank and left buttock are believed to be Taser marks."
Dr. Pietruszka noted there were contusions, abrasions, and bruises on the following areas of Anastasio’s body: the right jaw, the upper jaw, the cheek area, both hands, right wrist, right thigh, extensive hematoma extending into the posterior paravertebral musculature near the left scapula (running along the upper left side of his back), abrasions of both knees and buttocks, contusions and abrasions of the upper and lower lips, the upper gum line, the left anterior chest, the left upper abdomen, the right pelvis, the left inner thigh, the right forearm, and the right anterior tibial region of the leg. Dr. Pietruszka additionally noted that Anastasio sustained five broken ribs.
Both autopsy doctors found the cause of death to be homicide.
The report notes that the Border Patrol had control of the crime scene for over twenty-four hours before the San Diego Police Department's homicide team showed up. By then, the Border Patrol had destroyed many of the video and audio recordings of the incident. Agents had plenty of time to talk to each other about their stories and discuss the case with their union attorneys before being interviewed.
Even two years later with all the new videos coming forward, prosecutors still refused to bring charges. Federal agents are considered to have what is called "sovereign immunity." In plain English, this means that the federal government must give the family permission to sue them. Maria and her family did eventually settle with the government in a civil case for $1 million.
Criminally though, none of the agents involved has even received disciplinary action for their involvement in Anastacio's death. In November 6, 2015, the Department of Justice declined to take criminal action even without seeing the existing videos. Their decision appeared to hinge on a small amount of methamphetamine found in Anastacio's blood at the time of his death. The videos and eyewitness testimony would clearly show that he was not combative with the agents, but the DoJ refused to hear it and closed the case.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The Commission is perhaps the family's last chance for justice. Established in 1959 and headquartered in Washington D.C., the Commission is a sort of UN for the Americas. And since the U.S. signed the Americas Declaration on the Rights of Man, it is legally bound to give this family their justice. The agreement bans "torture, excessive use of force and discrimination." All of which apply to Anastacio's case.
Justice for Anastacio and his family may never come, because the Trump administration does not consider human rights to be a priority. The administration walked out on the United Nations Human Rights Council, and has shown no signs of caring at all about them on any level, much less in the case of an immigrant.