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DOJ: No Civil Rights Charges For Border Agents Over Death Of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 6/11/2015 Elise Foley
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WASHINGTON -- Five years after a Mexican national named Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas died after an encounter with Border Patrol agents, the Justice Department announced Friday it had closed its investigation into his death and will not pursue federal charges.

Prosecutors concluded that there was insufficient evidence for federal criminal civil rights charges, or to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that government agents violated homicide statutes, according to a release from the Justice Department.

Hernandez-Rojas was detained by Border Patrol agents in May 2010 after illegally crossing the border into the U.S., in an attempt to rejoin his family in San Diego. He resisted, and video footage taken at the time shows the man being struck with a baton and shocked with a taser while surrounded by agents from Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some onlookers yelled for the agents to stop.

Hernandez-Rojas had a heart attack and died two days later, which a medical examiner attributed to "acute methamphetamine intoxication, pre-existing heart disease, the level of physical exertion during the struggle, the electro-shocks from the taser and positional restraint," according to the Justice Department.

Hernandez-Rojas' death prompted outrage over border agents' use of force, which Customs and Border Protection officials said was necessary but others said was over the top. More than 36,000 people signed on to a petition calling for an investigation. In 2012, 15 House members along with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote to federal officials to demand the investigation move more quickly.

On Friday, the Justice Department stated its prosecutors were unable to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that any of the agents involved had willfully deprived Hernandez-Rojas of a constitutional right.

The department similarly ruled out other federal charges against the agents. The release states that being restrained and shocked from the taser were "contributory factors in his death," but that "there is no evidence that any of the federal agents deployed the taser or restrained Hernandez-Rojas with malice." They also concluded there was insufficient evidence to show that the agents violated a federal manslaughter statute.  

"While the loss of life is regrettable, the facts of this matter do not support a federal prosecution," the statement reads.

Government officials from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General informed Hernandez-Rojas' family earlier Friday, the department said.  

A lawyer for the family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The family previously filed a wrongful death suit but has not yet gone to court, according to a KPBS Fronteras Project report in May. 

The Los Angeles Times found in an investigation that agents from Customs and Border Protection, which includes Border Patrol, documented 450 uses of tasers from 2010 to 2013. Among those, three people died after being shocked. 

Overall, CBP reported 768 use of force incidents in the 2015 fiscal year, down from 1,037 the year before.

Neither CBP nor the Department of Homeland Security immediately responded to a request for comment on the Justice Department's decision.

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