The ACLU of Texas on Thursday filed a $100 million claim for damages against the US government on behalf of the family of a 20-year-old Guatemalan woman who was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent in 2018.
The claim, which is typically a precursor to a lawsuit, is for personal injury and wrongful death and accuses the federal government of battery, negligence, and reckless conduct in the Border Patrol shooting of Claudia Patricia Gómez González, an indigenous Mayan woman.
The Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and Border Patrol are all named as parties in the claim, which was filed on the anniversary Gómez's death. CBP said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.
"The government should acknowledge this was a miscarriage of justice and should attempt to make amends with the family," Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas, told BuzzFeed News.
According the complaint and her family, Gómez was an honors student who couldn't find a job in Guatemala or afford college, and was hoping to find a job in the US and become an accountant. Just 15 days after leaving her home on the outskirts of Quetzaltenango, a city that sits near the foot of a volcano, she crossed the Rio Grande in the hopes of finding a better life in the US.
Shortly after noon on May 23, 2018, Gómez was walking one-third of a mile from the river with a group of migrants in Rio Bravo, a Texas border hamlet, when they encountered a Border Patrol agent while waiting in a vacant lot.
That's when the accounts start to differ between the Border Patrol agent and witnesses. CBP initially said "that as the agent attempted to apprehend the group, he came under attack by multiple subjects using blunt objects."
In a follow-up statement two days later, CBP said only that the agent, a 15-year veteran of the Border Patrol, was "allegedly assaulted" and "rushed," but there was no mention of any blunt objects.
"According to the agent, the group ignored his verbal commands [to get on the ground] and instead rushed him," the second statement read.
In the initial statement, Gómez was described as "one of the assailants" who attacked the agent with blunt objects before he shot her. But in the second statement, she was only described as a member of the group.
Thursday's complaint from the ACLU of Texas said that when the Border Patrol agent approached them two people ran back toward the river, two others ran inside an abandoned mobile home to hide, and Gómez and another person stayed in the vacant lot.
"The agent drew his weapon. When Claudia took a step, the agent aimed at her, pulled the trigger, and shot her in the head," the claim states. "Claudia fell to the ground, face down."
The agent then chased the two men, who hid in the mobile home, and soon after other Border Patrol agents arrived at the scene, the claim states. Another Border Patrol agent turned her over.
In an unpublished video reported by BuzzFeed News that was taken by Marta Martínez, who lived nearby, the camera points to Gómez's body as another agent flips her over, blood covering her face.
The claim from the ACLU of Texas describes Gómez as unarmed, petite, and not carrying anything resembling a weapon or any other kind of threat.
"No one other than the agent had any weapons," the claim states. "No one in the group did anything that could remotely be construed as threatening or violent, let alone as posing any imminent danger of serious physical injury or death."
Segura of the ACLU, said CBP, the largest law enforcement agency in the US, should better train agents on de-escalation methods and have them wear body cameras.
The agency "needs to make it clear to its agents when they should actually pull out a gun," Segura said. "And make it clear that people simply running is no reason for a gun to be pulled out."
Body cameras are essential, Segura added, because it gives oversight to a federal agency that doesn't have enough of it.
Edgar Saldivar, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said he recently spoke with Gómez's father, who said he was happy that the claim was being filed.
"He is still traumatized by the death of his daughter," Saldivar told BuzzFeed News. "He's got mixed feelings because he's happy we're pursuing justice, but at the same time he's extremely sad at the one-year anniversary of his daughter's death."
The FBI, Texas Rangers, and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice have launched investigations, but the results, if any, have not been made public.
Guatemalan General Consul Tekandi Paniagua said he's been in contact with Gómez's family and continues to monitor developments in the case.
Her father is hopeful there will be justice for his daughter, Paniagua told BuzzFeed News, despite what feels like a long wait during which not even the name of the agent who shot Gomez has been made public.