FRANK PEREZ Paul Strelzin, B.H.S. Principal Teresa Fernandez, who was crossing the Bowie commons while I interviewed Vielma, said she, too, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Fernandez told of being stopped by an agent and questioned about her citizenship. After she answered the question, she said, “He just stared at me. And he wasn’t looking at my face. He looked down at my body in a sexual way,” Fernandez said. “Then he left.” The Border Patrol’s defense seems to rest on their response that the students’ allegations are vague and perhaps fabricated or exaggerated. Also, Musegades told students at a campus meeting he attended, students are often stopped because they bait the officers, playing catand-mouse when they see a Border Patrol vehicle. But David Renteria’s account of an incident that occurred as he walked home from graduation rehearsal last June 3 is different. Renteria’s family took note of officers’ badge numbers and names and a van number. And several witnesses saw at least part of what Renteria contends is a type of harassment common in his neighborhood. His account not only raises serious questions the Border Patrol will have to answer, it poses the question: “Who you going to call?” Interviewed in the modest but impeccable two-and-a-half-room apartment he shares with his mother and his older brother, Renteria said he was stopped as he walked home from graduation practice with a friend, Carlos Jacquez. As they walked, an agent driving a Border Patrol van stopped and asked them if they were U.S. citizens. Both answered yes, according to Renteria and Jacquez, who also participated in the interview. . “When I walked off, the agent on the passenger side said, `you better stop before I beat you up so bad you’re not going to be able to move,’ “Renteria said. “I kept walking.” Renteria said the same agent who had questioned him got out of the van, grabbed him by the arm, and demanded to see some identification. “When I told him that I didn’t carry an ID, he pushed my chest and demanded an ID,” Renteria said. When the officer asked where Renteria was born, Renteria said he told the officer, “I choose to remain silent.” The officer told him that because he was not under arrest, he had no such right and, according to Renteria, offered to call a police officer. “I told him I didn’t want him to call anybody but he got his radio and said `Citizen requests p.o.’ ” The agent continued to hold him, Renteria said, and took a page of commencement instructions from him and crumpled it. Then, Renteria said, he was pushed against the van and roughly searched. When another agent, a woman, arrived and asked if any help was needed, the officer who had detained Renteria said “Este [this] Bowie graduate thinks he’s a lawyer.” When the El Paso police officer arrived, according to Renteria, the officer asked why he didn’t carry an ID. Renteria asked the officer what he was going to do about “this agent who just abused my Fifth Amendment rights and smacked me.” According to Renteria, the police officer told him he had no case against the agent, who was only doing his job. “Then he said, `You can’t do anything with these people,’ ” apparently referring to the witnesses, Renteria said. Before the agent would release him, he insisted that Renteria give him his address, which he did. “Three days later the same agent drove up in front of my house, flipped me off [gave him the finger] and drove away,” Renteria said. Witnesses to Renteria’s confrontation included his mother and older brother, Dino, who had been summoned by Renteria’s companion, Carlos Jacquez. When they arrived, they proceeded to get badge numbers and names. Interviewed in his living room, late at night in the company of Jacquez who had been dropped off by his father, Renteria was unwavering in his story. Why had Renteria chosen this moment to refuse to cooperate with Border Patrol officials? He said that MECHA club sponsor Juan Sybert-Coronado had told students that they only have to tell officers their names and that they are U.S. citizens. But there seemed to be more to Renteria’s decision. Renteria said his family was routinely stopped when they walked to church and that officers routinely harass people in the neighborhood. He also said he had seen agents beat a man who offered no resistance. “They beat him up and pushed him in the Suburban. And they don’t obey the stops on the corner,” Renteria said. He also told of a recent arrest of two young women. “They were wearing mini-skirts and they pushed the two ladies by their butt,” he said. “Even if they were illegal, they didn’t have the right to touch them like that,” Renteria said. Renteria took his complaint to a law school graduate working with the Border Rights Coalition, a local human rights monitoring and advocacy group. Through the Border Rights coalition, he was referred to Barbara Hines, an Austinbased attorney working for the Texas Lawyers’ Committee fdr Civil Rights. Hines filed a class action suit, which names as its defendants Musegades and 13 or more un-named Border Patrol agents. Musegades said he is not allowing officers to discuss the case with reporters. He first said there were no specific officers to interview because no individual officers were accused. Then Musegades said that even though some officers were identified, none would be allowed to meet with the press. However, in a one-hour interview in his office, Musegades maintained that there is no problem at Bowie High school. “You know, we have been there for years and we have not had a problem until he [Strelzin] took over … What you saw yesterday [at a MECHA meeting where a crew from ABC’s Good Morning America was filming] was 40 students encouraged by their teachers to make complaints.” Musegades said that even with recent student complaints, the problem is small “when you think that 6,000 people cross there every month.” Asked about specific student’s complaints, which came from both interviews and affidavits filed in the lawsuit, Musegades said “I can’t imagine any agent doing that.” Declarations filed by the Border Patrol place a number of officers at locations where students claim they were harassed but offer different accounts of the confrontations. Raul Rodriguez, who has worked for the Border Patrol for four years, admits to stopping Renteria and Jacquez after receiving a report from a spotter on the Bridge of the Americas who said, “Two subjects were seen entering illegally and walking toward Stevens [street], wearing dark over dark and dark over light clothing,” a description that matched what the two boys were wearing, Rodriguez said in his declaration. But he also described Renteria as belligerent and said both young men initially refused to answer his questions. He said of Renteria’s allegations: “I never hit him or beat him. I never threw him to the ground.” Musegades said the incidents often sound more like a lack of courtesy on the part of officers. That, he said, is something he can improve. But the larger problem, as he sees it, is educational in nature. He has turned the complaints over to the Inspector General’s office at the U.S. Department of Justice, which will decide if a further investigation is warranted. Asked if he knew that the FBI had contacted Murillo, Musegades said he was aware that an FBI investigation was underway and could offer no further comment about who is the target of the FBI inquiry. He said that if officers were found to have violated agency rules, the officers 6 DECEMBER 11, 1992
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