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12 Years in Search of Justice for Anastasio Hernández Rojas

Border Patrol’s inadequate use of force policies and extreme lack of accountability have led to a culture of violence and impunity that has devastated border communities for decades. The case of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, a longtime San Diego resident who was brutally tased, beaten and killed by U.S. border agents is the story of the struggle for justice in the borderlands.

Because of the egregious miscarriage of justice in this case which includes not only a failure to bring charges against the agents involved, but also the attempted coverup of the incident by law enforcement Anastasio’s family has brought their case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which will now sit on judgement of the United States and address the structural impediments to justice in cases involving border agents and other law enforcement officers.

This is the first known extrajudicial killing case that will be decided by the IACHR involving U.S. law enforcement. The outcome of this case could set a precedent for other cases against border authorities and other police who have killed with impunity, especially in Black and Brown communities.

This is the timeline of this historic case.

Who was Anastasio Hernández Rojas?

 

1968

  • Anastasio was born on May 2, 1968 in the city of San Luis Potosí, Mexico. His parents were Porfirio Hernández Rojas and María de la Luz Rojas Olivo. 
     

1983

  • At the age of fifteen, Anastasio moved to San Diego, California to look for work and help support his family.
     

1989

  • At the age of twenty-one, Anastasio met María de Jesús Puga Morán.
     

1990-2010

  • Over the course of twenty years, the couple had five children, all born in San Diego. Anastasio supported his family by working in construction and demolition.
     

The case timeline:

 

2010

  • On May 10th, 2010, Anastasio was arrested by police for allegedly stealing groceries for his family. Although the police did not press charges, he was turned over to the Border Patrol for not having documentation and was repatriated to Mexico.
  • On May 28th, 2010, Anastasio tried to reunite with his family in San Diego by entering the United States again. Border Patrol agents apprehended him and transported him to the Chula Vista Station, where an agent injured his leg. Anastasio asked for medical attention, but was denied. When he insisted, the supervisor ordered Anastasio out of the United States to Mexico. He was transported handcuffed to the San Ysidro port of entry, where border agents beat him, electrocuted him and suffocated him until he stopped breathing. He was revived and remained on life support for several days.
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immediately attempted to cover up the incident; they manipulated the facts, dispersed eye witnesses and erased their cell-phone videos, disappeared government video footage, withheld evidence from police investigators, and interfered with the police investigation.
  • On May 31st, 2010, Anastasio died in hospital in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Autopsy reports confirmed that he suffered extensive injuries while in his custody, including bruises and abrasions on his face and body, five broken ribs, and bleeding into internal organs and neck muscles. Mr. Hernandez died after suffering a heart attack, cardiac arrest and brain damage. His death was ruled a homicide.
     

2011

  • Anastasio's family filed a civil court lawsuit for wrongful death and civil rights violations in 2011, a lawsuit the U.S. government repeatedly stalled.
     

2012

  • A new eyewitness video emerged showing border agents punching and electrocuting Anastasio repeatedly while he was handcuffed, face down on the ground. The video gained national attention when it was broadcast on PBS’s Need To Know.
  • Anastasio’s mother and brother traveled with Alliance San Diego to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers to raise awareness about the case and with the Department of Justice to request that they review the new video and investigate the incident for possible criminal charges.
     

2013

  • On July 29, 2013—more than three years after the incident and only as the result of the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family—a federal judge in San Diego finally lifted a protective order that had kept secret the names of the Border Patrol agents involved in this incident.
     

2015

  • In November 2015, the Department of Justice declined to bring criminal charges against any of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel involved in his death, despite eyewitness video and clear attempts from CBP to cover-up Anastasio’s murder.
     

2016

  • On March 29, 2016, the family of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, represented by Alliance San Diego, and international law experts from the University of California, Berkeley International Human Rights Law Clinic, filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington D.C.
     

2017

  • In February 2017, the United States settled the civil lawsuit with the Hernández family. The family made the difficult decision to settle without a judgement from the civil court because they feared the Trump administration would target the family and make their suffering worse.
  • On May 10, 2017, the IACHR announced that it would move forward with the case, giving the US government the opportunity to respond to allegations of extrajudicial killing, torture, and obstruction of justice. This is the first case alleging an unlawful killing by law enforcement opened by the IACHR against the United States. 
     

2018

  • The Trump Administration responded, arguing that the IACHR did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. Anastasio’s family responded back that IACHR did indeed have the authority to decide this case. Click here for the response brief from March 2018.
     

2019

  • In August 2019, Alliance San Diego hosted the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights during their visit to the southern border region as part of their investigation of Trump's inhumane border policies. Many human rights organizations and impacted community members shared their stories and experiences with the IACHR, including Maria Puga, widow of Anastasio.
     

2020

  • On May 28, 2020, Anastasio’s family marked the 10th anniversary of the incident that led to his death a few days later. The family awaited a decision from IACHR to decide the jurisdictional question and advance to the merits stage of the case.
  • On July 23, 2020, the IACHR found it has authority — over the objections of the Trump Administration — to decide Anastasio's case.
  • In 2020, Alliance San Diego and American Friends Service Committee sponsored the painting of a mural memorializing the life of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, and as a reminder that the fight for justice continues. Click here to learn more about the mural project, its symbolism and how to donate to the mural fund.
     

2021

  • In January 2021, Anastasio’s family, represented by Alliance San Diego and the UC Berkeley International Human Rights Law Clinic, filed a brief including new testimony from three former Department of Homeland Security officials who point to a cover-up in the landmark case before the IACHR.
  • November 2021, the United States failed to file a response and answer to the allegations of impunity of border agents submitted by Anastasio's family to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
     

2022

  • On August 15th, 2022, Anastasio's family took the next step in the case and submitted a request for a hearing before the IACHR for its fall session, which begins in late October. The request comes at a time when the United States faces increasing scrutiny for the widespread coverup of killings and other misconduct by border agents.
  • On October 4th, 2022, the IACHR granted Anastasio's family's request to hold a hearing to determine whether United States law enforcement officials used the power of the state to kill Anastasio, cover it up, and deny the family access to justice. The hearing, which will be virtual and broadcast live, has been set for November 4, 2022, at 4:00 pm eastern.
  • On October 24th, 2022, Legal experts submit three separate amicus briefs including Erwin Chemerinsky, the most cited legal scholar in the country, William Aceves and David Oppenheimer. In addition more than 200 organizations co-sign a letter in support of Anastasio’s case to the IACHR.