Activists Arrested After Run-in With Border Authorities Want Charges Dropped
Three activists who rally against alleged abuses by federal border authorities want prosecutors to drop charges stemming from a run-in between the two sides in May.
Shena Gutierrez -- whose husband suffered severe injuries including brain damage during a confrontation with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers several years ago -- and two others were cited for disobeying federal officers when they refused to leave the port of entry in Nogales on May 23. They were attempting to get one officer's name for the purpose of filing a formal complaint, but ended up getting arrested instead.
"It was all in retaliation," Gutierrez tells New Times.
See, back in 2011, 41-year-old Jose Gutierrez was deported from the United States, despite living in the Los Angeles area since he was a boy. With his U.S. citizen wife Shena and two children still in the States, Gutierrez tried to come back into the country, through San Luis, Arizona.
At the port, he was picked for additional inspection, meaning he wasn't going to make it into the country. Customs and Border Protection said Gutierrez tried to run back to Mexico. The agency's statement said:
The man was combative, ignored commands to halt and subsequently was subdued by CBP officers using an electronic control device (ECD). Initial reports say the man struck his head on the ground during the incident.Gutierrez eventually was brought to St. Joseph's hospital in Phoenix, where he remained comatose for weeks, with fragments of his skull removed, and various injuries.
Emergency medical personnel responded to the scene and took him to a local area hospital for further medical attention.
We regret the injury and will continue to actively cooperate with the ongoing investigation.
Our colleague Stephen Lemons reported at the time that the feds and the hospital wanted to sent Gutierrez back to Mexico while he was still comatose.
Fast-forward three years, to this May, when Shena Gutierrez -- now a founding member of a group called the Border Patrol Victims Network -- was going through the port of entry between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, for events trying to bring attention to what happened to her husband.
Gutierrez was wearing a shirt that included a photo of her husband in a comatose state, with dozens of staples running across his head, along with a shirt that said, "Stop Border Patrol Brutality."
Gutierrez says the officer at the gate was "fixated" on her shirt, and asked, "What are you doing here?" She says a verbal back-and-forth ensued, before the female officer grabbed her arm and put it behind her back, while another officer grabbed her other arm, and they handcuffed her and detained her for nearly half an hour before letting her go.
On her way back through the port later, when she went with fellow activists, they asked for the female officer's name, so Gutierrez could file a formal complaint. Without the name, the complaint would never go anywhere.
Richard Boren, one of the other activists who eventually was arrested, said they were there at the port for about an hour trying to get the officer's name.
"I finally said I wasn't leaving without the name, because it would be impossible to file a complaint," Boren says. "They said, 'We can't give you the name, and you need to leave.'"
Boren says the CBP officers never warned them of arrest, but they ended up placing five people in handcuffs, and citing three people, including Boren and Gutierrez. They were cited for failing to obey a federal officer, and Gutierrez got an additional charge of impeding an inspection, although Gutierrez contends the officers were purposely harassing her.
The failure of the CBP officers to release the officer's name is a part of accountability these activists have been trying to get out of the federal agency. Gutierrez says she's involved in legal action in an attempt to get the names of all the officers involved in the incident with her husband, now more than three years later.
The Border Patrol Victims Network, including Gutierrez and Boren, are trying to publicize this incident as an example of a lack of accountability at Border Patrol and CBP. Human-rights organizations have found that complaints at the agencies very rarely result in punishment against the offending officer.
We sent a narrative of events to a pair of CBP spokesmen Tuesday morning, asking for the agency's version of what happened. We did not receive a response.
The activists are organizing a rally in Tucson today, after their initial court appearance on the charges. The flyer for the event, pictured below, includes photos of Shena after the incident a few months ago, as well as a photo of her husband after his run-in with CBP a few years ago.
UPDATE 4:52 p.m.: CBP spokesman Victor Brabble gave us the following statement:
At this time CBP is declining to comment on the specific case involving Mrs. Gutierrez.Send feedback and tips to the author.
Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.