TUCSON (CN) - Border patrol officers coerced a teenage Guatemalan girl into being bait in a sting against human smugglers, then shot at a vehicle in which they knew she was riding, and it crashed, the young woman claims in Federal Court.
Jane Doe sued the United States and unknown agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and/or U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
She claims the border patrolmen threatened to deport her to El Salvador, told her she would have blood on her hands if she refused to help them, and promised she could stay in the United States if all went well.
But all did not go well, she said, and now she suffers from intense pain and constant fear.
Doe says she was 17 when she fled an abusive home in rural Guatemala in 2009 to join her mother and father in the United States. Her father had hired a coyote, or human smuggler, to take her and her younger sister overland through Mexico to Arizona.
Doe says she became separated from her group and wandered in the wilderness for two nights before being picked up by Border Patrol and/or ICE agents. She says the agents pressured her into "playing the lead role in a dangerous sting operation."
"To do so, the agents put plaintiff under intense pressure," the complaint states. "They refused her requests to speak to family members, whom they told plaintiff were also in their custody, unless she first took part in the sting operation. The agents also threatened to send plaintiff to El Salvador, a country to which she has no connection. The agents emphasized that the coyotes were responsible for deaths of other immigrants - in effect telling plaintiff that she would have blood on her hands if she did not take part in the sting operation. They also promised plaintiff that she would be allowed to remain in the U.S. if she assisted them. Under this pressure, plaintiff believed that she had no choice but to participate in the sting operation."
Doe says the agents drove her to a gas station near Benson, Ariz., and gave her the number of a suspected coyote, telling her to request a pickup. The agents wired her to record the conversation.
"Two coyotes arrived at the agreed pick-up site in a van and, after confirming that plaintiff was the person they were there to collect, instructed her to enter the van quickly," the complaint states. "Although the agents had told plaintiff that they would intervene promptly to protect her, they did not do so. Plaintiff hesitated, but the agents did not intervene. The coyotes became nervous and yelled at plaintiff to enter the van. Terrified of what the coyotes might do if she did not comply, plaintiff entered the vehicle."
The coyotes saw the agents immediately and sped away. The agents pursued at high speeds. Doe says the officers shot at the vehicle shortly before the driver lost control and crashed.
"Plaintiff was thrown forward from the rear of the van and her head struck the van's console, causing her to lose consciousness," the complaint states. "When plaintiff regained consciousness, she was bleeding from her nose and from lacerations around her forehead and mouth. She suffered cuts on her chest and knees from the impact and could not move her feet. She was in severe pain all over her body. ...
"When the agents reached the crashed van, they congratulated plaintiff and told her that the operation had been a success because they had arrested four coyotes, including two who were also at the pick-up site in a lookout vehicle," the complaint adds. "An agent hugged plaintiff and told her that she would be allowed to stay in the United States."
But after the praise died down, the agents refused to take Doe to the hospital, but arrested her. She says she suffered severe pain and post traumatic stress disorder from the ordeal, and received proper medical care for her injuries only after begging staff at the jail for help. While she was in jail, authorities served her with a Notice to Appear at a deportation proceeding. The notice was in English, which she could not understand.
The proceedings were canceled in 2010 and Doe is on parole "in recognition of her assistance in the capture and prosecution of certain of the persons charged in the criminal cases" against the suspected coyotes, according to the complaint.
"Neither plaintiff nor her counsel was informed of the criminal cases until months after their commencement," Doe says. "To date plaintiff has not been called to testify as a witness in the criminal cases."
Doe says she cannot put the incident behind her, that she's in constant pain from her injuries and that she fears for her and her family's safety, as "members of the coyote network active in Guatemala have recently approached members of plaintiff's family resident in that country to inquire about plaintiff's whereabouts and what happened during plaintiffs journey to the United States."
"Plaintiff lives in a state of constant fear and hypervigilance, worrying that the coyotes will take revenge on her and her family because of her forced role in the sting operation," according to the complaint. "Whenever plaintiff encounters vehicles like those used by the coyotes in the street, she becomes apprehensive, believing that the coyotes have sought her out to harm her or her family. Because of the agents' actions, plaintiff lives in justified fear that she and her family are at risk of retaliatory violence - even in the United States. Plaintiff is also afraid to return to Guatemala because the coyotes could exact violent revenge on her and her family there."
Doe seeks damages for negligence, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments.
She is represented by Shelley Detwiller DiGiacomo of Tempe, and Victor Hou, with Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, in New York City.
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