LAREDO, Texas (CN) — The parents of a Guatemalan Mayan woman shot in the head by a Border Patrol agent, whose death drew international outrage because a resident filmed and posted footage of her body, sued the agent and the United States Tuesday.
Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, 20, had left her hometown San Juan Ostuncalco, in the western highlands of Guatemala, with the goal of reuniting with her boyfriend, who had moved to Virginia, and pursuing her dream of becoming an accountant.
She borrowed $10,000 from an aunt who lived in the United States to pay a coyote to guide her through Mexico.
She traveled north with five other youths from the rural area where most residents are indigenous Mayans who speak the Mam dialect, the Guardian newspaper reported in June 2018.
Her parents, Gilberto Gomez Vicente and Lidia Gonzalez Vasquez, sued the United States; her presumed shooter, Border Patrol Agent Romualdo Barrera; and 20 John Doe Border Patrol officers in Laredo federal court.
Gomez and her traveling companions were in Rio Bravo, Texas, a sleepy town of 5,000 on the Rio Grande, on May 23, 2018, when Barrera encountered them in a weed- and brush-choked residential lot, according to the lawsuit.
The family is represented by American Civil Liberties Union of Texas attorney Edgar Saldivar.
“Two people from Claudia’s group ran toward the river. Two others ran toward an abandoned and dilapidated mobile home two lots away, to hide. Claudia and another person stayed in the vacant lot,” the complaint states.
It continues: “The agent drew his weapon. When Claudia took a step, the agent aimed at her, pulled the trigger, and shot her in the head. Claudia fell to the ground, face down. Agent Barrera then chased the two men who hid in the mobile home. Soon, other Border Patrol agents arrived at the scene.”
Gomez was shot close by the home of Marta Martínez. Martínez heard the single shot, came outside and started recording Border Patrol agents with her cellphone, according to an August 2018 report by Buzzfeed News.
Martínez filmed an agent flipping over Gomez’s body. When she saw Gomez’s blood-soaked face, she said, “Oh my God, she’s a girl, and you guys shot her in the face.”
Martínez shared the video with Buzzfeed and posted footage on Facebook but took it down at the request of the FBI, which investigated the shooting along with the Texas Rangers and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Saldivar said in an email he believes the investigations are ongoing, but he has received no confirmation of this from the law enforcement agencies.
“Following the shooting, CBP issued a press release stating that members of Claudia’s group had used ‘blunt objects’ to attack the agent, and that Claudia was ‘one of the assailants,’” the complaint states, using an abbreviation for Customs and Border Protection.
The agency retracted that statement and issued a new one, claiming the group ignored the agent’s commands and rushed him.
The second statement made no reference to blunt objects and did not say that Gomez had assaulted the agent, according to the complaint.
Gomez’s parents say in the lawsuit that she was a petite woman who posed no threat to the agent as she was clearly unarmed, not holding anything, when he shot her.
Martínez told Buzzfeed she had the impression Gomez was hiding before she was shot because her body was in bushes on the vacant lot.
She was killed less than three weeks after she set out for the United States.
Her parents seek compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death, excessive force, due process violations, battery, negligence, gross negligence and reckless conduct.
The lawsuit follows an administrative claim her family filed in May 2019, a prerequisite for complaints brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
A Customs and Border Protection official said, “CBP does not comment on pending litigation. However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”
“Since January 2010, at least 102 people have died as the result of an encounter with U.S. border agents,” according to the Southern Border Communities Coalition, which tracks the deaths through media reports and CBP press releases.
The group is comprised of 60 organizations from the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.