AFF Wins Dismissal in Federal Criminal Excessive Force Case Against Border Patrol Agent

     On November 21, 2014, Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone won a dismissal in a Federal criminal excessive force case against a Border Patrol Agent. The case involved a use of force by Border Patrol Agent Rene Chavez against a suspect on July 7, 2012. Chavez was defended by Stuart D. Adams, Esq. of Adams Ferrone & Ferrone. On that date, Agent Chavez was working the border between the United States and Mexico, in Calexico, California.  

    At approximately 10:00 p.m. that evening, a border patrol agent reported that an illegal alien was crossing over a border fence in an area of the fence known to Border Patrol Agents as 1160 Rancho Elegante. That address is actually two blocks from the fence but is used by agents because they know illegal aliens entering at that location head for that address two blocks away. The residents of that address are convicted alien smugglers along with being known for fighting with agents (the suspect in this case has been convicted of multiple felonies including resisting arrest with Border Patrol Agents).

     Border Patrol Agent Matzke responded to the report of a suspected alien who had hopped the fence. Matzke observed the alien run from the border fence to a home at 1160 Rancho Elegante Drive in Calexico.  As the agent was writing up his report, he noticed that 2 males were walking away from the area.  The agent stopped them to conduct an immigration check and one of the males stated he was a United States citizen and in a profanity laced tirade, refused to supply proper identification.

    At that time, Agent Matzke called for backup and Agent Chavez responded to this backup call. Chavez was told by Matzke that the suspect refused to produce identification and he needed to confirm his residency so they were to transport the suspect to the station for identification.  Chavez began to conduct a pat down of the suspect to place him in the vehicle but the suspect began actively resisting Agent Chavez. 

     At the same time Chavez was wrestling with the suspect, the suspect’s father was present. The suspect said to his father that he should video the encounter because “the shit was about to go down” or words to that effect. The father approached Chavez and the suspect with a phone in his hand held as if he was videotaping the encounter. 

     Fearing for Chavez’s safety, officer Matzke physically stopped the father from approaching and he became involved in a physical altercation with the father. This created a life threatening situation because the two officers were now each involved in a physical struggle with another person and unable to aid the other.  It is alleged that Chavez struck the suspect with whom he was wrestling in the head with a flashlight. 

     Chavez was able to get the suspect in the vehicle and then was able to go help Matzke subdue the father. After subduing the father Matzke went back to the vehicle and obtained identification from the suspect. Matzke did a check via his radio and verified the citizenship of the suspect as U.S.  He then went back with Chavez to the vehicle containing the Suspect and as he approached he heard the suspect banging around inside the vehicle. Upon opening the door he saw blood on the suspect for the first time. The suspect claimed that the blood was the result of being struck by Chavez.

     The defense was prepared to prove that there was reasonable doubt that Chavez struck the suspect in the head with the flashlight at all and/or caused injury and that there was no specific intent to deprive the suspect of his Civil Rights, points upon which the burden of proof rests with the prosecution. This was to be proven in part through the testimony of expert witnesses who were prepared to justify the level of force used by Chavez as reasonable. 

    Moreover, the only eye witness who said that the suspect was hit in the head intentionally with a flashlight was the suspect himself. This created a major problem for the Government’s case.

    The suspect had previously been convicted of multiple felonies including alien smuggling and resisting arrest. The officers whom he resisted were prepared to testify as to his fighting with them. Also, the suspect has a reputation for fighting with agents.

     The defense had prepared extensive cross-examination of the suspect in anticipation of destroying the suspect’s credibility. Then, in the middle of the filing of the pre-trial motions, on the eve of trial, the suspect did just that to himself; he was arrested for escaping custody which he was serving as a result of the prior felony convictions. 

     The Government requested the defense agree to a continuance. This request was declined. The Government then brought a motion to continue that was vigorously opposed by Attorney Stuart Adams. Arguing he was ready to proceed with the trial and that the delay would prejudice the client, Adams pointed out that the Government had presented no evidence to support its claim that they had exercised due diligence in pursuing the suspect after his escape which occurred in April of 2014. The Federal District Court Judge sided with Adams and the Government was forced to dismiss its case.

    “I am grateful for the support and hard work given to me by Mr. Adams” an obviously relieved Chavez stated. “He had my back from the start and never let up.” Chavez, who had been on administrative leave without pay with the Border Patrol, is now seeking reinstatement. This was the second victory For Adams in a Federal criminal case of excessive force against a Border Patrol in less than two years. In a previous case that went through a jury trial in April of 2013, Adams won a not guilty verdict for Border Patrol Agent Luis Fonseca who was charged with excessive force against an illegal alien. Fonseca has returned to his job as a Border Patrol Agent.

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