McALLEN, Texas (CN) - A Border Patrol officer bound and raped three Honduran women who surrendered to him near the Rio Grande, then killed himself when police knocked on his door, the women claim in Federal Court.
Mrs. G, her 15-year-old daughter and their 14-year-old friend crossed the border illegally into Hidalgo County, Texas on March 12, 2014 and their guide left them near the banks of the Rio Grande, they say in the Dec. 23 complaint.
The complaint identifies the women by their initials because they are rape victims.
Border Patrol Agent Esteban Manzanares spotted the women while patrolling in his service pickup and detained them.
Manzanares, 32, worked out of the Border Patrol's McAllen Station. He grew up in McAllen, worked in the area as a jailer and served in the Army National Guard before joining the Border Patrol in 2008, according to The Associated Press.
Manzanares had recently divorced, but his ex-wife told the McAllen Monitor newspaper he did not seem depressed and had vowed to be a good father to his then 1-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, both of whom have cystic fibrosis.
Manzanares told the three Honduran women he was driving them to a McAllen detention center for migrant women and children. He stopped and tied up their wrists, then drove to "what appeared to be a government building" and left them in the back of his truck, the women say in the lawsuit.
"After driving further for an unknown distance, Manzanares stopped in an unpopulated area. He took the three plaintiffs out of the vehicle. He taped their mouths and wrists, and told them he was doing so due to a secondary order he had received," the complaint states.
It should have been a routine trip to a detention center, as the women were among tens of thousands of women and children fleeing violence and destitution in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, who came to the United States in 2014 and surrendered to immigration authorities.
But Manzanares clearly was not taking them to McAllen, the women say. He took them to an area with dense brush, stopping and unlocking several gates along the way.
According to the complaint and media reports, Manzanares dragged Mrs. G from the truck, raped her, strangled her and cut her wrists, then went back for her daughter.
He yanked the teen from the truck and twisted her neck "as if to break it" until she passed out, she says in the lawsuit. She came to, but played dead as he raped her, photographed her exposed body, cut her arms, and covered her with brush and dirt before going back to his truck, the teen says.
Mrs. G. says she regained consciousness and, disoriented and bleeding, heard Manzanares assaulting her daughter. She says she "made the difficult decision to leave the scene and run for help."
She was spotted on a Border Patrol surveillance camera around 5 p.m., The Associated Press reported.
Border Patrol officers drove 10 minutes from their post to her and questioned her, according to the lawsuit and media reports.
"When asked who was doing this, [Mrs. G.] told the officer the perpetrator was 'dressed just like you,'" the complaint states.
Manzanares, meanwhile, drove the 14-year-old girl to his apartment in Mission, where he tied her up nude, photographed her and raped her "(o)n more than one occasion, and over the course of several hours," she says in the complaint. "She doesn't know for how long as her ordeal had been going on but believes it was several hours. She remained restrained to the bed the entire time."
The complaint continues: "Hours later, [she] heard a loud pounding on the doors. She believed that other individuals had arrived to cause her even more harm. Shortly after the loud knocking on the door and the loud voices, she heard gunfire and explosions of gaseous chemicals in the apartment. She learned that Officer Manzanares was fatally injured when he killed himself with his own weapon."
After federal agents found Mrs. G and her daughter, they found blood and duct tape in the truck Manzanares had dropped off at the station that day and went to his apartment with Mission police, the AP reported.
The women say the FBI and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement knew that Manzanares had sexually abused women in his custody, and had investigated him for it. Co-workers also suspected Manzanares had let two illegal border crossers go, according to Politico Magazine. The women, who live in Virginia, each seek more than $1 million in damages for assault and battery, false imprisonment, infliction of emotional distress, and negligence, under the Federal Torts Claims Act.
They are represented by Mark Clore in Charleston, S.C. and Christine Lockhart Poarch in Salem, Va.
The women moved to Virginia to join family and all applied for U visas, a program that offers green cards to some victims of crime, Poarch said in an email.
Their applications are pending in a backlogged system that accepts only 10,000 U-visas a year, as mandated by Congress, Poarch said.
It was a busy year in court for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the largest branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, with more than 60,000 employees.
The agency was sued more than 30 times in Federal Court, according to the Courthouse News database. Many of the lawsuits name the United States of America as the only defendant.
Plaintiffs claim in the lawsuits that Border Patrol officers wrongly shot and killed their fleeing family members, roughed them up during traffic stops, shot at their vehicles and ran them over.
The allegations against Manzanares are among the most heinous in any lawsuit against the Border Patrol this year. Manzanares' crimes led the chief of Customs and Border Protection to issue an apology, which is a rarity for an agency with a policy of taking months and even years to publicly address officer misconduct, according to Politico.
"I want you to know that I consider these actions, if true, to be reprehensible and I know they are not representative of the agents of the U.S. Border Patrol," Kerlikowske said in a statement about Manzanares.
The United States spends more money annually on border and immigration enforcement than the combined budgets of the FBI, ATF, DEA, Secret Service and U.S. Marshals, Politico reported.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.