SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — Local immigration advocates and community activists gathered outside San Diego’s Hall of Justice calling for the district attorney to launch an inquiry against a group of Border Patrol agents and their supervisors involved in the investigation into the death of Anastasio Hernández Rojas.
According to the San Diego County Medical Examiner, Hernández died from a heart attack, cardiac arrest and brain damage suffered during a beating at the hands of several border agents 11 years ago.
None of the agents involved were ever prosecuted.
“We don’t have justice,” said Maria Puga, Hernández’s widow.
Puga and other speakers demanded justice as they talked about a Border Patrol Critical Incident Investigation Team that was sent to investigate the agents’ involvement in Hernández’s death.
That team of investigators is accused of tampering and destroying evidence during the investigation and keeping the San Diego Police Department in the dark about Hernández’s case.
Even though SDPD had jurisdiction in the case, its detectives didn’t become aware of the incident until members of the media called to ask questions about Hernández’s injuries allegedly at the hands of the Border Patrol agents.
“They altered government documents, interfered with the investigation and withheld critical information from San Diego Police Department,” said Michelle Celleri with Alliance San Diego. “Additionally they provided false evidence, they provided video footage with the wrong timestamp that was inaccurate, and when they asked Border Patrol to provide them with the right footage it had already been destroyed.”
Alliance San Diego has been looking into the Hernández death and recently discovered evidence, they say, proves Border Patrol investigators misled San Diego police officers and hampered the investigation as a way to shield the agents involved from any charges.
Alliance San Diego says Critical Incident Investigation Teams have also interfered with other death investigations.
And, it adds, it has also discovered these teams are “shadow units” that aren’t authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection of the Department of Homeland Security and that agents involved only answer to sector chiefs.
Activists say the investigators and their supervisors need to be prosecuted on charges of obstruction of justice and other charges.
“They interfered in the San Diego Police Department’s investigation and they are subject to criminal charges,” said Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee. “The San Diego District Attorney’s Office has a critical role to play in protecting the integrity of law enforcement investigations.”
Rios and the others are stressing the need for San Diego County’s District Attorney to launch its own investigation.
A spokesperson for the DA issued a statement saying: “We have not received a case for review. The District Attorney’s Office stands ready to pursue justice when the evidence supports it and where we have jurisdiction. We can’t comment on the Department of Justice’s review of this matter.”
As for the Justice Department, six years ago it made public a news release clearing the agents of any wrongdoing, saying it didn’t have enough evidence for prosecution.
“The federal government is also unable to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the subjects violated the federal homicide statutes within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States,” the statement reads. “Although positional restraint of Hernandez-Rojas and electro-shocks from the taser were contributory factors in his death, there is no evidence that any of the federal agents deployed the taser or restrained Hernandez-Rojas with malice. Nor is there sufficient evidence to establish that the federal agents’ conduct violated the federal manslaughter statute, which does not require malice but requires that the federal agents committed a lawful act in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection, that might produce death.”
Meanwhile, the Border Patrol says its Critical Incident Investigation Teams were “disbanded several years ago.”