Court Rules in U.S. Favor in Suit Brought by Local Taco Stand Owner for Damages
|June 27, 2011|
LAREDO, Texas – On Tuesday, June 21, 2011, visiting U.S. District Court Judge Donald Walter ruled in favor of the United States and against Humberto Gonzalez, who owns a taco stand in South Laredo, Texas, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.
Gonzalez filed a civil suit against the United States Department of Homeland Security seeking damages pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, alleging that on Dec. 14, 2004, numerous Border Patrol (BP) agents went onto his property without probable cause, harassed and intimidated him and his family, arrested his nephew and falsely imprisoned him. Visiting Judge Donald Walter presided over the one-day trial of the case and heard testimony from Gonzalez, the plaintiff, as well as four BP agents.
According the agents’ testimony, on Dec. 14, 2004, a BP agent witnessed a Ford Explorer backed up to a ranch gate in an area where numerous drug seizures had occurred near the Rio Grande River at the Webb County – Zapata County line. The Explorer then proceeded northbound on Highway 83. The agent radioed for assistance. BP agents from the Laredo South Station stopped the Explorer on U.S. Highway 83 South and found it to contain more than 400 pounds of marijuana. A Chevrolet Suburban traveling in tandem with the Explorer was observed as well and a BP agent followed the Suburban to the Santa Rita Subdivision in South Laredo. After undertaking evasive maneuvers, the Suburban stopped in the driveway of a residence/taco stand located on San Salvador street in the subdivision. The BP agent saw the Suburban’s driver and passenger run from the vehicle - the driver ran to the back of the property while the passenger ran into the taco stand.
After additional BP agents arrived at the location to provide back-up for the lone agent, the agents approached the owner of the premises, Gonzalez, who was engaged in unloading a vehicle outside the premises. Agents explained that they were looking for the occupants of the Suburban. While denying that either of the occupants of the Suburban were on the property, Gonzalez gave the agents consent to search his property. The driver of the Suburban was found in a mobile home located in the back of the property. The passenger, who was identified as Gonzalez’s son, was located in the taco stand. Shortly thereafter, a BP supervisor arrived at the scene. After determining that there was no contraband in the Suburban, the agents found no reason to remain on the scene and prepared to leave the premises. Before leaving, Gonzalez offered the agents food “on the house.” The agents respectfully declined and left the residence. No one was arrested nor detained by the agents.
At the conclusion of the evidence, Judge Walter denied the plaintiff’s claims and ruled in favor of the United States.
The case was litigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hector C. Ramirez for the United States.