Border Summit hears of O’odham teenager killed by Border Patrol
By Brenda Norrell
SAN XAVIER, TOHONO O’ODHAM NATION – While describing the Border
Patrol as a “death squad,” indigenous at the Border Summit of the Americas were told how Border Patrol agents
ran over and killed Tohono O’odham teenager Bennett Patricio, Jr.
“The Border Patrol
is a death squad. They are operating like they do in Central and South America, because no one can hold them accountable,”
said Jimbo Simmons, member of the International Indian Treaty Council, during the Summit Aug. 29 – Oct. 1.
The Border Summit opposed
the border wall and Secure Fence Act passed by the Senate and urged Indian Nations to unite and defend their ancestral lands
from the planned desecration.
Bill Means said the U.S. government plans to build the southern border fence in
violation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, environmental laws and other federal laws.
is a violation of Indigenous Peoples human rights and a violation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples now
being considered by the United Nations General Assembly,” said Means, member of the International Indian Treaty Council.”
Indian Nations were urged to take action
in defense of ancestral lands, burial sites and the environment, during the summit.
“Are we building the Western Hemisphere's Berlin Wall?” asked Means.
The family of Patricio described their struggle for justice for 18-year-old Bennett Patricio, Jr., ran over and
killed by the Border Patrol in an isolated area of the desert, on Tohono O’odham tribal land, on April 9, 2002.
“I’m here to
let everyone know about the Border Patrol and how they killed my son,” Angelita told the summit.
“When we went to
the mortuary to see my son. The lady said, ‘He’s crushed, he’s crushed from his head down to his feet.’”
Right then, she said, she
questioned how this could happen, that her son was crushed from the top of his head down to his feet. After that, Border Patrol
agents began driving back and forth in front of their home.
The family filed a lawsuit
against the Border Patrol and US. A federal judge in US District Court in Tucson
ruled in favor of the Border Patrol. However, the family has appealed the case. It is now slated in the Ninth Circuit Court
of Appeals in San Francisco.
Struggling to find legal
funds, Angelita said the family needed help last year and the Tohono O’odham Nation Legislative Council refused.
“They have all this
money and they can’t even help their own people.”
After having several attorneys
take the case and leave the case, Angelita said she discovered most attorneys do not want to go against the government.
“A lot of people
ask us, ‘What’s wrong with your Nation? Why can’t they help you?’”
“What is the Nation
doing for us? Nothing,” Angelita told the summit.
“It hurt me more
that I had to stand alone. The Tohono O’odham Nation couldn’t do anything but tell me to be quiet,” she
Erwin said there was a
witness, a security guard going home that night around 3 a.m. The witness saw a Border Patrol vehicle and another vehicle
parked back to back and involved in a transfer of items.
The witness also saw a
pedestrian walking rapidly down the road. After the security guard told the Border Patrol to watch out for the pedestrian
on the road, the Border Patrol left at a high rate of speed.
“Border Patrol spun
out. We know the Border Patrol on the reservation drive at a high rate of speed,” Erwin said.
Erwin questioned what the
Border Patrol was involved in during the transfer between vehicles in the predawn hours in the isolated area of the reservation.
He said the Border Patrol’s claims that their son was lying in the road is not true. The witness saw him walking at
a steady pace.
“We know that our
son wasn’t lying on the road,” said Erwin, Patricio’s stepfather, who raised him with his mother.
Erwin pointed out that
the family’s private investigator was fired and relocated to New York.
Both their witness, the security guard, and their private investigator were absent when the case went before a federal judge
in US District Court in Tucson.
“The judge ruled
in favor of the United States,” Angelita said, pointing out that
justice would never have been possible in southern Arizona.
The appeal was moved to the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco.
Erwin said one Tucson television station attempted to come out to tribal land and cover the story, but was told to turn
around and go back to Tucson by the Tohono O’odham Police
“It hurt so much.
It hurt my wife and our family. All we wanted was the Border Patrol to come and say they were sorry and we would have accepted
it. But that has not happened,” said Erwin.
Angelita pointed out that
during the time of her son’s death, there were other Border Patrol agents arrested for dealing drugs.
She said the truth of what
happened that night has not been revealed.
“It is always turned
around that we are the bad people.”
Describing the harassment
that followed their son’s death, Erwin said the Tohono O’odham police spiked the tires of the family’s truck.
He said the Police Department admitted they had done this. The police blamed it on a “Rookie” cop and were responsible
for the damages.
Angelita said that Border
Patrol agents threatened Patricio’s father. They said if he spoke out about what happened to his son, “the same
thing will happen to you.”
“We’re so happy
to be here today and bring it out, what happened,” Erwin said told the summit.
Angelita said that since
the death of her son, she has learned what is happening on the Tohono O’odham Nation.
While tribal officials
speak out against giving water to migrants, she said, “We are accountable for the people that die on that Nation.”