Nebraska Police Officers Posing as INS Agents Severely Beat Immigrant, ACLU Charges

Affiliate: ACLU of Nebraska
June 25, 2001 12:00 am

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LINCOLN, NE–A Scottsbluff police officer claiming to be an Immigration and Naturalization Service agent entered a man’s house without a warrant and severely beat him in front of his family, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska charged in a civil rights lawsuit filed this afternoon.

Two of the officers used so much pepper spray in arresting Ramon Villa-Velazquez of Scottsbluff that the rest of the family had to vacate the house for several days and his infant son suffered breathing and skin problems.

“These officers acted with malice and with reckless disregard for the rights of the Villa-Velazquez family,” said ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Tim Butz. “A 13-year-old girl had to watch in horror as her father was beaten for no other reason than the color of his skin.”

“This is not some theoretical violation of the Constitution,” Butz added, “The actions of these officers resulted in severe emotional and physical damage that may never be repaired.”

The lawsuit, filed against the Scottsbluff Police Department, names Officers Bruce Ferguson, Steven Bonds and (First Name Unknown) Lucky and alleges violations of the federal constitutional right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures and the right to due process.

The lawsuit also alleges that the detention and beating of Mr. Villa-Velazquez was racially motivated.

According to a filing made in Federal District Court in Lincoln, on March 16, 2000, Officer Ferguson entered the Villa-Velazquez home without a warrant or permission. He was later joined by Officers Bonds and Lucky.

Ferguson, who was not in uniform, claimed to be an INS agent and demanded that Villa-Velazquez show his immigration documents. When Villa-Velazquez showed a visa, Ferguson told him that he was under arrest. When Villa-Velazquez asked Ferguson for a warrant or identification, Ferguson flashed his badge in manner that did not allow Villa-Velazquez or his daughter to see it.

Aware of his rights, Villa-Velazquez refused to leave his home without proof that the officers were with INS or had a warrant. He made no threats, nor did he act in a physically threatening manner towards the police, the ACLU said.

Nonetheless, Ferguson, aided by Officer Steven Bonds, used pepper spray on Villa-Velazquez and beat him on the back, chest, neck and shoulders. The lawsuit also alleges that when taking Mr. Villa-Velazquez out of his home, the officers deliberately rammed his head into the doorframe. When the officers placed him in a car driven by Officer Lucky, they again beat Villa-Velazquez, banging his head against the car and banging the door against his head.

According to the lawsuit, the beating resulted in “serious and permanent physical injuries” to Mr. Villa-Velazquez. Today, 15 months after the incident, he cannot stand upright as he could before his arrest and he continues to suffer physical pain from the beating.

The lawsuit was filed by Lincoln attorney Stephen Charest from the firm of Berry Kelley Charest & Reiman.

“”It is ironic to me that on the one hand communities encourage Hispanic workers to come and work in towns where there is a labor shortage, yet tolerate flagrant abuses of power by community officials such as these,”” Charest said.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Villa-Velazquez, his wife, Maria Villa, daughter Crystal, 13, and infant son Ramon, seeks damages for emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of liberty and humiliation.

Charest is a member of the Board of Directors of the ACLU of Nebraska and is bilingual in English and Spanish. He is representing the family without cost to them. The other costs of the litigation are being born by the ACLU of Nebraska Foundation, which is financed by private donors and ACLU members. The ACLU of Nebraska is an affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union.

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