Abuse of power allegations levied against Border Patrol
Josue Torres, Jamie Santillanes accused of assault
9:14 AM, Aug 14, 2012
10:06 PM, Sep 10, 2012
SAN DIEGO -
A South Bay family is accusing the U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego of overstepping their authority during an intense early morning raid that some have said was motivated by revenge.
In late August 2011, 50 to 60 armed men, as well as helicopters buzzing overhead, gave all the appearances of a major drug bust.
However, the 10News I-Team learned the law enforcement action was not what it seemed. It was a Chula Vista residence targeted in a U.S. Border Patrol investigation over a confrontation at a taco stand.
The large extended Torres family described the scene as one of fear and panic.
"I could hear my daughters screaming and crying," Mario Torres told 10News.
Torres' mother, Hayde, described how masked men in all-black outfits stormed her Montgomery Street home.
"They were point this big gun at me 'put your hands up,'" Hayde Torres said. "We were very scared. We didn't know what was going on."
Border Patrol agents were looking for evidence at the home because, as one agent told a startled family member, "we take care of our own."
The I-Team learned Border Patrol agents wanted to know who assaulted and robbed agent Carlos Hinojosa. Josue Torres and his cousin, Jamie Santillanes, were accused of injuring Hinojosa and charged with multiple felonies.
The pair were accused, in part, because the Border Patrol's report on their interrogation concluded Santillanes' body language was "conclusive of a guilty subject."
However, there was no lineup. Instead, Hinojosa identified Santillanes as he sat handcuffed, half-naked, in the driveway following the raid on the Torres residence. Josue Torres also received the same treatment.
"I felt humiliated, like a criminal," said Torres.
"While you were handcuffed, did you ever connect the dots to this place that night?" asked I-Team reporter Mitch Blacher.
"No, never," said Torres.
Three weeks earlier, Torres and Santillanes were allegedly involved in a confrontation with Hinojoso at Los Taquitos Taco Shop in Chula Vista.
Torres and Santillanes don't have criminal records.
"Did you provoke him?" Blacher asked.
"Absolutely not," said Santillanes.
Torres and Santillanes said Hinojosa seemed upset. They said Hinojosa eyed them and then bumped hard into Santillanes, starting the confrontation.
Border Patrol reports show Hinojosa was not in uniform that night nor did he show any badge or identification.
Torres and Santillanes insist Hinojosa kept repeating the same phrase after they bumped.
"'You guys f***** up, I'm a cop. You guys f***** up,'" said Santillanes.
In his official Border Patrol report, Hinojosa wrote that he "knew these subjects were nefarious," suspecting them of being gang members.
Subsequent police reports showed no gang ties.
"This guy tells my friend, 'I am going to get my f****** backup,'" said Santillanes. "I'm thinking gun."
When Hinojosa reached his truck, he claimed he was threatened with a knife and that Torres and Santillanes beat him and stole his wallet.
Santillanes said Hinojosa whirled around, hit him and he just reacted.
"I caught him with a punch," said Santillanes.
An audio tape obtained by the I-Team reveals Hinojosa didn't want to call 911 after the fight. He instead called a co-worker at Border Patrol dispatch.
In the call, Hinojosa told the dispatcher "I got f****** jumped."
After a brief conversation, the dispatcher insisted Hinojosa call police, but he refused.
After the confrontation and raid that followed, the case against Torres and Santillanes went to trial. A 10-2 verdict in favor of innocence meant a hung jury, and the district attorney agreed not to retry the case.
"The jury's verdict essentially says officer Hinojosa was lying because they couldn't have reached that verdict if they believed that. If they thought he was telling the truth they would have convicted," said defense attorney Gretchen von Helms, who is not connected to the case but has extensive experience with criminal police procedure.
It is her opinion the Border Patrol had an agenda.
"Sometime police officers engage in misconduct and then they lie in order to cover that misconduct up," said von Helms.
During the trial, records showed Hinojosa's character was in question.
Defense attorneys brought up the fact that San Diego police had been called to his home several times, that "agent Hinojosa and his brother were verbally abusive, aggressive " and that they identified themselves as Border Patrol agents, saying, "SDPD couldn't do anything to them."
According to the police report, they were "extremely disrespectful, making obscene comments" such as "f*** off."
Hinojosa's neighbor also testified at the trial about his character.
"He's not the type of person that should be having a badge or a gun," the neighbor said.
She recalled saying the same thing to a Border Patrol recruiter who was checking on Hinojosa.
"I explained to him his character. I explained to him his behavior and they still went ahead and got him a job. You know what? Nobody can say we didn't know," she told the I-Team.
Hinojosa had been on active duty for four months when the raid took place.
"I really think this is an abuse of power," said Hayde Torres.
The internal U.S. Border Patrol investigative report documents are rarely if ever seen in the public, but the police report and the court charges are available from public sources.
Border Patrol Supervisor Steven Pitts told the I-Team, "All employees are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner while on or off duty the overwhelming majority of Customs and Border Protection employees and officers perform their duties with honor and distinction."
Pitts said any allegations of misconduct are investigated.