A video (below) published by ABC News on July 28 appears to show two U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers encouraging a Mexican teen to drink out of two bottles that contained liquid methamphetamine, which caused his death in 2013.
ABC News obtained surveillance video of the incident, which occurred at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The 16-year-old Mexican high school student, Cruz Velazquez, died of a massive overdose within two hours after drinking the substance in front of the border officers, Valerie Baird and Adrian Perallon. It is believed Cruz was attempting to smuggle the drugs into the U.S.
Cruz initially told the officers the bottles contained apple juice, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Instead of conducting a standard field test on the bottles, the officers appeared to encourage the teen to drink from the bottles to make him prove the liquid was juice, ABC News reports. In the surveillance video, the officers appear to signal to Cruz to drink the substance, which he is seen doing four times as the officers smile.
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James Tomsheck, a former head of internal affairs at CBP, told ABC News: "If [the officers] truly suspected there was a controlled substance in the bottle, they should've conducted a field test."
Whether or not the officers encouraged the teen to drink the substance, they definitely permitted him to. The officers also waited more than a half hour before calling paramedics.
Baird and Perallon, who refused interview requests from ABC News, both denied asking the teen to drink from the bottle.
"I never asked him to," Perallon stated under oath, reports the New York Daily News. "He volunteered to, and I believe I gestured to him to go ahead."
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After the teen drank from the drug-laced bottles, he started sweating and yelling about "the chemicals" in the bottles. According to records, he screamed in Spanish: "My heart! My heart!"
Perallon said Cruz "volunteered" to drink from the bottle in what an official CBP report called an "accident," notes ABC News.
In response to ABC News' investigation into the incident, CBP released a statement: "CBP takes all allegations of mistreatment seriously, and does not tolerate actions that are not consistent with our core values of vigilance, service to country and integrity."
Both Baird and Perallon kept their jobs and neither received a reprimand.
Meanwhile, U.S. taxpayers paid out a $1 million settlement to the teen's family in March 2017 over a wrongful-death lawsuit. CBP did not admit to any wrongdoing, nor did the agency issue an apology while handing over the seven-figure check.
Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California condemned the officers: "Drug smuggling is wrong and is a crime, but this teenage boy did not deserve a death sentence. For CBP officers to inflict a summary death sentence is not only immoral, but also illegal."
Democrat Rep. Bennie Thompson of Missouri was also appalled:
In order for CBP officers to prevent smuggling, ensure public safety, and do their difficult job at the border properly, CBP must have the appropriate protocols in place and officers must follow them. While there is no excuse for attempting to bring illicit substances into the country, it is absolutely clear from the video that there were numerous failures in judgement and procedure that led to the senseless death of a 16-year-old boy. CBP must ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again.
Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York wants CBP officers to wear body cameras: "Undocumented immigrants and green card holders are terrified and it is critical that we hold officers accountable and ensure that the civil rights of these individuals are not violated."
Sources: ABC News, New York Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune / Photo Credit: Raymond Wambsgans/Flickr, Bill Morrow/Flickr, James R. Tourtellotte, CBP, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security/Wikimedia Commons