More than three years ago, a Mexican teenager crossed the border into America at a Border Patrol check point. After the authorities found a suspicious liquid in his backpack, the teen voluntarily drank some of the liquid. He claimed it was apple juice he’d bought across the border. It wasn’t. It was meth in a liquid form.
He died shortly after. And now the federal court in San Diego has awarded his family $1 million to settle a lawsuit with his family.
Cruz Marcelino Velázquez Acevedo, 16, died from a massive overdose on Nov. 18, 2013. He drank the liquid in an attempt to fool the border patrol agents interrogating him.
The family’s lawsuit alleged that “the two agents told a young man to drink the liquid to prove to them that it was fruit juice and not a drug.” Eugene Iredale, the family’s attorney, told the court that he “did that, and as a result, he died.”
The suit claimed that Velasquez was the victim of wrongful death, assault and battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Even though the suit was settled, the officers, Valerie Baird and Adrian Parellon, are still working for CBP in San Diego.
CBP released a statement Friday. “Although, we are not able to speak about this specific case, training and the evaluation of CBP policies and procedures are consistently reviewed as needed,” the statement read.
Though the family hasn’t come forward to talk about the settlement, the Mexican Consular General in San Diego has. “It’s never enough when you lose a human life,” said Marcela Celorio. “The family lost their son, and the father was very committed to finding justice. What’s important is that the family is at peace […] with the agreement that was reached.”
The family’s attorney don’t think that Velázquez was a drug dealer. He had no record. The family believes he’d been paid to carry the liquid over the border, and had no idea what it would do to him. “We believe he was paid some small amount of money,” Irdedale said. “The going rate is $100 or $200, that they gave the kids to cross the border.”
“I don’t think they deliberately set out to kill the boy,” the attorney said. “But they did, in telling him to drink it in order to prove to themselves — or have him prove to them — that it was in fact what he said it was as opposed to a drug, which is what they suspected.”
Part of the settlement centered on testimony from another CPB officer. He told the court that one of the officers had said to him: “Oh my God, I told him to drink it, I asked him what it was, he said it was juice, I said, ‘Well then prove it.’”
“Although it is obvious in hindsight that Cruz acted recklessly in drinking from the bottle and that may have been attributable to his age and poor judgment, that fact does not alter the analysis. … There must also be coercive or deceptive tactics employed by officers to exploit a suspect’s vulnerabilities. No such tactics were used in this case,” Barton Hegeler, Perallon’s attorney, wrote.
Just who did or didn’t say what is highly disputed. The San Diego Union Tribune reports that Officers Perallon said Baird have turned on each other. Each has accused the other of being the one who instigated the meth drinking.
One thing is certain. There were test kits available that were not used. There was a canine officer that responded as soon as symptoms presented. While it may not have been intentional, it remains a high profile tragedy.