- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

Two illegal aliens plan a multimillion-dollar civil rights lawsuit against a Texas deputy who was sentenced to prison over an April 2005 incident in which the lawman shot at an alien-smuggling vehicle that he said had just tried to run him down.

Edwards County Deputy Sheriff Guillermo F. Hernandez, along with his boss, Sheriff Donald G. Letsinger, have been targeted in a pending lawsuit by Maricela Rodriguez-Garcia and Candido Garcia-Perez, two Mexicans who were being smuggled into the U.S. when they were injured by fragments of the lawman’s bullets.

Mrs. Rodriguez-Garcia, struck by bullet fragments in the cheek and mouth, and Mr. Garcia-Perez, injured when fragments hit him in the arm, will seek damages from the two lawmen when the lawsuit is filed in U.S. District Court in Del Rio, Texas.

Court records show Mrs. Rodriguez-Garcia and Mr. Garcia-Perez told investigators that they paid $2,000 each to be taken across the Rio Grande from Acuna, Mexico. They said they later met the vehicle’s driver and a guide, who were to take them to Austin and Dallas.

Both Mexican nationals are thought to be in the U.S. and have filed notice that they intend to sue. A legally required mediation hearing, where disputing parties meet with a neutral third party to try to resolve a dispute without going to court, is scheduled for today in Austin.

James D. Doyle III, an Austin-based attorney who represents the two Mexicans, did not return calls to his office for comment. But law-enforcement officials and others familiar with the case said the lawsuit will accuse the deputy of using excessive force that caused serious injury to Mrs. Rodriguez-Garcia, and that in firing at the vehicle, Hernandez abused his authority and grossly overreacted under the circumstances.

According to the sources, the lawsuit will accuse the deputy and the sheriff of violating the civil rights of the two illegals, will seek reimbursement for medical expenses and punitive damages for pain, suffering and mental anguish. It also will target Edwards County, the sources said, saying the sheriff’s department’s deadly force policy was unconstitutional and allowed Hernandez to overreact with excessive force.

Hernandez was sentenced on March 19 by U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson in federal court in Del Rio to one year and one day in prison and ordered to pay $5,347 in damages to Mrs. Rodriguez-Garcia. The judge also ordered the deputy to serve three years supervised probation and to pay an additional $5,000 fine.

He was convicted on charges of violating “under the color of law” the civil rights of Mrs. Rodriguez-Garcia, who was struck by fragments from one of four bullets the deputy fired at the vehicle after it fled following an April 2005 traffic stop in Rocksprings, Texas.

Hernandez told investigators the driver of the vehicle tried to run him down after he stopped him shortly before midnight for running a red light. He said as he approached the vehicle on foot, he spotted at least eight persons lying down inside it. He said he fired shots at its rear tires as it sped off after trying to run him down.

Sheriff Letsinger said an initial investigation into the shooting by the Texas Rangers found that Hernandez “followed the letter of the law” in defending himself, but said the matter later was turned over to the FBI and to U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, who last year also won convictions against two U.S. Border Patrol agents who shot a drug-smuggling suspect as he fled back into Mexico.

Mr. Sutton has dismissed claims by Sheriff Letsinger and several Texas congressmen that the deputy was unfairly charged and prosecuted, saying a jury heard the evidence and unanimously found Hernandez guilty of using unreasonable and unlawful deadly force. He said Hernandez repeatedly fired into the back of a fleeing vehicle he knew was loaded with people and was not a threat to him.

“In America, we admire our law-enforcement officers for their courage and dedication,” he said. “However, police officers are not above the law they enforce.”


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