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Martinez v. United States

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 30, 2019

Armando Nieves Martinez, et al., Plaintiffs,
United States of America, Defendant.


          Honorable Cindy K. Jorgenson, United States District Judge

         This action was brought under the Federal Torts Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2671 against the United States of America for compensatory and consequential damages arising out of United States Border Patrol Agents' alleged actions in connection with a border checkpoint stop, interrogation, and subsequent confinement. At the summary judgement stage, the Court precluded Plaintiffs' claims of negligence, gross negligence, assault, and false imprisonment, but permitted Plaintiffs' claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress to proceed. See (Doc. 156).

         More specifically, the Court found that Defendant sufficiently demonstrated that the discretionary function exception applied to Border Patrol's actions as a matter of law with respect to Plaintiffs' claims of negligence, gross negligence, assault, and false imprisonment. However, the Court also found that Plaintiffs' claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress presented a genuine issue of material fact and permitted the trial to proceed on that basis. The case came before the Court for a three-day bench trial which commenced on January 28, 2019 and concluded on January 30, 2019. The parties, respectively, filed Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. (Docs. 198, 199).

         1. Findings of Fact

         Plaintiffs are citizens of Mexico. Plaintiff Armando Nieves Martinez (“Mr. Nieves”) is a grape raisin farmer who cultivates, purchases, processes, and packs grape raisins for export to the United States of America. Mr. Nieves is a successful businessman and is married to Amelia Pesquiera Ortega (“Mrs. Nieves”). They have two children: Armando Nieves Pesquiera (“Armando”) and Regina Nieves Pesquiera (“Regina”). At the time of the incident, Armando was eighteen years old and Regina was fourteen years old.

         On August 18, 2011, the Nieves family planned to go shopping at a mall in Chandler, Arizona. A few days prior to the trip, Mrs. Nieves's car was in an accident and was being repaired at an auto-body shop. On August 17, 2011, Mr. Nieves picked up Mrs. Nieves's car from the shop. That same day, Border Patrol received information that there would be a vehicle containing narcotics that would enter the United States via the Lukeville port of entry on the morning of August 18, 2011. On August 18, 2011 at approximately 8:15 a.m., the Nieves family left Caborca, Sonora, Mexico and arrived at the port of entry in Lukeville, Arizona. From there, the Nieves family traveled north, towards Chandler. There are two common Border Patrol checkpoints between Lukeville and Chandler. The Nieves family was stopped at the first checkpoint where a Border Patrol Agent and a K-9 conducted an inspection of the Nieves family's vehicle. The Nieves family was permitted to continue.

         Upon reaching the second checkpoint, Border Patrol agents stopped the Nieves family and requested their visas. One Border Patrol agent and a K-9 conducted an inspection of the Nieves family's vehicle while another inspected the Nieves family's visas. The K-9 alerted to the vehicle twice and the Nieves family was directed to pull their vehicle to a separate area for a secondary inspection. The Nieves family moved their vehicle to a separate area and exited the vehicle. For approximately twenty minutes, Border Patrol agents inspected the Nieves family's vehicle when Border Patrol Agent Victor Casillas (“Agent Casillas”) appeared. Agent Casillas was the supervisor of the Disrupt Unit which conducts criminal investigations in the border region. Agent Casillas is bilingual and was born and raised in Yuma, Arizona. Agent Casillas proceeded to provide Miranda warnings to the adult members of the Nieves family. The adult members of the Nieves family waived their Miranda rights and consented to questioning. Agent Casillas began questioning Mr. Nieves, asking for his name, occupation, and residence and stated that the Nieves family was in trouble because their vehicle had drugs in it. Mr. Nieves was then handcuffed while the rest of the Nieves family was escorted to a trailer. Agent Casillas continued to question Mr. Nieves and placed him in the back of a Border Patrol vehicle.

         The Nieves family was then driven to a Border Patrol station in Ajo, Arizona. The trip took approximately thirty to forty minutes. Then, the Nieves family was placed into separate holding cells with Regina placed into the same cell as her mother. Regina and her mother were later allowed to sit in the waiting area of the station. Mr. Nieves was taken to a small office and interrogated. Mr. Nieves testified that Agent Casillas stated that if Mr. Nieves did not tell the truth, Mrs. Nieves would be going to a prison in Kentucky, Armando to a federal prison, and Regina would be placed into the custody of the United States. Mr. Nieves was afraid that he would never see his family again and began to weep. Mr. Nieves characterized the interview as aggressive and abusive.

         During this interrogation, Agent Casillas was informed by Border Patrol Agent Francisco Mendez-Garcia that a field test confirmed the presence of liquid methamphetamine in the windshield wiper fluid in the Nieves family vehicle. Agent Casillas then informed Mr. Nieves that Border Patrol Agents “found the drugs.” Mr. Nieves testified that Agent Casillas began to laugh and told Mr. Nieves that he was “fucked” and that he was going to spend fifteen years in prison. Agent Casillas again repeated that if Mr. Nieves did not confess, Mrs. Nieves would go to a prison in Kentucky, Armando to a federal prison, and Regina would end up in government custody. Agent Casillas then stated that Mr. Nieves should “have the balls to save [his] family from jail.”

         At their request, Agent Casillas brought Armando and Mrs. Nieves to Mr. Nieves. Mr. and Mrs. Nieves had a brief discussion about the events that were occurring. They decided that Mr. Nieves would confess because they no longer wanted the family to remain in custody. Armando and Mr. Nieves also spoke to each other. Mr. Nieves then told Agent Casillas that he would be responsible for what was found in the Nieves family's vehicle. He was handcuffed and placed into a patrol vehicle to be transported to Phoenix, Arizona. During the trip, Agent Casillas further interrogated Mr. Nieves, and according to Mr. Nieves, told him his family would be going to prison if he did not provide more details. Mr. Nieves insisted that he was accepting responsibility solely due to his desire to end his family's confinement. Excluding Mr. Nieves, the Nieves family was released from custody at approximately 6:00 p.m.

         Agent Casillas continued to interrogate Mr. Nieves and asked whether the $3, 000.00 in his possession was payment for the drugs. Agent Casillas testified that Mr. Nieves gave additional information about the money and about transferring the drugs to a mall in Chandler, Arizona. In response to further questioning by Agent Casillas, Mr. Nieves stated that he could no longer continue telling lies about his acceptance of responsibility. Mr. Nieves repeated that he committed no crimes and if there were drugs in the Nieves family's vehicle, they were not his. After additional questioning, Agent Casillas was dropped off in Buckeye, Arizona and Mr. Nieves was taken to the U.S. Marshal's Office by other agents. Two agents then interrogated Mr. Nieves, who insisted that he was innocent and only confessed because he did not want his family to continue to be detained.

         On August 19, 2011, a Criminal Complaint was filed against Mr. Nieves alleging that he knowingly and intentionally conspired to import five hundred grams or more of methamphetamine. On September 23, 2011, the government filed a motion to dismiss that Complaint after additional testing revealed that no narcotics were detected in the samples of the suspected liquid methamphetamine seized by Border Patrol Agents. In total, Mr. Nieves was in custody for forty days.

         At trial, the Court heard drastically different accounts from Mr. Nieves and Agent Casillas regarding the tone of the questioning Mr. Nieves was subjected to. The Court finds that Mr. Nieves was genuinely terrified and upset by his encounter with agents. He was afraid for the wellbeing of his family members, who were detained for hours, as he was questioned. He was told by Agent Casillas that he had drugs in his vehicle and that the field test was positive. After speaking with his wife and son he decided to take the blame so that his family would be released. He confessed to save his family. He admitted this to agents as he was being driven to Phoenix.

         2. ...

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