(UPI) — The U.S. government has agreed to pay $1 million to the family of a Mexican teenager who died after drinking liquid methamphetamine when U.S. Border Protection officers told him to prove it was apple juice as the teen claimed.
A legal complaint said Cruz Velazquez Acevedo, 16, died in November 2013 after being stopped by officers on the U.S. side of the border while he was going through San Diego’s San Ysidro Port of Entry.
Cruz was carrying two bottles of liquid he claimed were filled with apple juice. Court documents said U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers Adrian Perallon and Valerie Baird told Cruz to drink the liquid to prove he was not lying.
Cruz took four sips and shortly began sweating profusely and started screaming and clenching his fists, court documents said. Within minutes, his temperature jumped to 105 degrees and his heart beat at a rate of 220 beats per minute, more than twice the normal rate for adults.
“Mi corazón! Mi corazón!” Acevedo screamed, according to court records, which translates to “My heart! My heart!”
He died about two hours after ingesting the liquid.
Eugene Iredale, the lawyer for Cruz’s family, told The Washington Post that relatives brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the two Border Protection officers and the U.S. government, alleging the officers “coerced and intimidated” Cruz into drinking the liquid even they suspected it was a controlled substance.
Drug smugglers often use children in attempts to transport illicit substances into the United States, Iredale said.
“I’m not prepared to say they knew for certain that it was going to kill him,” Iredale said. “It’s obvious that they suspected from the beginning that it’s meth.”
Iredale said Cruz was wrong for attempting to smuggle the substance across the border “but he’s a 16-year-old boy with all the immaturity and bad judgment that might be characteristic of any 16-year-old kid.”
Iredale said officers had tests kits available that would have determined if the liquid was a controlled substance within minutes. Baird testified the officers tested the liquid for drugs but after Cruz began to overdose.
“He was basically a good boy, he had no record, but he did something stupid. In any event, the worst that would’ve happened to him is that he would’ve been arrested and put in a juvenile facility for some period of time,” Iredale said. “It wasn’t a death penalty case. To cause him to die in a horrible way that he did is something that is execrable.”
Perallon and Baird remain employed by the Customs and Border Protection in San Diego.
“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 agency said in a statement.
In a 2015 bid to dismiss the lawsuit, Baird’s attorneys argued Cruz was not a U.S. citizen and had no connections with the United States, meaning he was not entitled to U.S. constitutional rights.
“Nonresident aliens are entitled to constitutional protections only if they have substantial voluntary connections with the United States,” the motion said.
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