By Claudia Irizarry Aponte, Originally published in THE CITY on April 2, 2020
A Brooklyn man targeted in a February Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in which he was tased and his girlfriend’s son was shot in the face is free — for now.
On Tuesday, a federal judge in Manhattan ordered 33-year-old Gaspar Avendaño-Hernández’s immediate release, citing health concerns related to coronavirus.
He was released from New Jersey’s Hudson County Correctional Facility the following day and went straight home, his attorneys announced Thursday.
Judge Paul Oetken determined that the “extraordinary” injuries the Mexican immigrant sustained during his arrest — he was tased “15 to 20 times” and developed a heart disorder as a result, the judge said in his ruling — entitled him for release “on reasonable conditions.”
Those conditions were not immediately disclosed.
Avendaño-Hernández’s attorneys had argued that the severity of his injuries would make him more susceptible to the threat of COVID-19, the illness brought on by the novel coronavirus, should he stay at Hudson County jail, where he had been detained since mid-February.
On Wednesday, the day Avendaño-Hernández was released, a 56-year-old correctional officer who worked at the jail died of COVID-19 complications, the first known coronavirus-related death of anyone connected to the lockup.
“No one should be in civil ICE detention right now given the enormous danger that the coronavirus poses in jail settings, the complete inadequacy of ICE’s efforts to keep people in its custody safe, and the continued dysfunction of the detained immigration court docket,” said Paige Austin of Make the Road New York, who represents Avendaño-Hernández.
ICE was not immediately available to comment on the ruling.
Avendaño-Hernández’s deportation case is ongoing, but he will be able to wait it out in freedom.
“My family will finally be able to embrace each other for the first time since we were violently attacked and seperated by Trump’s immigration officers,” Carmen Cruz, his long-time girlfriend and Erick Díaz-Cruz’s mother, said in a statement on Thursday.
In the early morning hours of February 6, Avendaño-Hernández was heading out for work when he was approached by plainclothes ICE officers in front of the Gravesend, Brooklyn home he shared with Cruz, his partner of 12 years.
Upon seeing Avendaño-Hernández’s struggle, 26-year-old Díaz-Cruz — who was unarmed — came to his aid, apparently not realizing the strangers were federal agents.
When Díaz-Cruz saw an agent reach for their belt, he reached up to cover his own face, thinking he was about to be maced. Instead, he was shot in the face.
An examination by Maimonides Hospital physicians shortly after the arrest determined Avendaño-Hernández had been tased as many as 20 times.
Doctors there determined he had developed a heart condition as a result, as well as a condition in which breakdown of muscle fiber releases protein into the blood, which can cause potentially lethal damage to the kidneys.
Details of Avendaño-Hernández’s injuries were first disclosed in a Feb. 28 emergency joint City Council hearing on the Committees of Immigration and Health and Hospitals.
“Law enforcement is supposed to help and seek justice when one is attacked by a criminal in the streets,” Cruz said in Spanish in her testimony at that hearing. “But on February 6, a criminal government attacked us — and I call on the authorities to make a full investigation”
Meanwhile, Díaz-Cruz has been resting at his mother’s home since he was released from Maimonides Hospital on Feb. 12.
A week later, he filed a class-action lawsuit in Brooklyn Federal Court against the ICE agents who shot him, and made his first and so far only public remarks on the incident.
“This is not just an attack against me, but also an attack against the entire Latino community in the United States,” said Díaz-Cruz in a statement released through his attorney on the day his lawsuit was filed.
The bullet that punctured Díaz-Cruz’s face narrowly missed his left eye and brain matter; it remains lodged in his left cheek, according to the suit. Díaz-Cruz also sustained injuries to his left hand, which was grazed by the bullet after he held it up to protect himself.
Demands for Justice
News of the violent raid outraged immigration advocates and lawmakers. Tensions boiled over after it was reported that ICE agents inside Borough Park’s Maimonides Hospital, where both Avendaño-Hernández and Díaz-Cruz were being treated for their injuries, were blocking the men’s access to legal counsel and their families, spurring protests.
Avendaño-Hernández was arrested by the NYPD on Feb. 3, three days before the shooting, for allegedly failing to signal a turn, and driving without a license or a proper license plate.
That arrest tipped off the feds.
Díaz-Cruz, also a Mexican national, was in the country legally on a tourist visa. His trip marked the first time mother and son had been together in 11 years.
A fundraiser created shortly after the shooting to cover the family’s medical bills raised just over $8,600.
Before the shooting, Cruz was looking forward to showing off her son at the beauty salon where she worked. They had lunch plans that day.
“I just wanted to show him around the city,” Cruz told THE CITY a week after the incident. “I was so happy to have him home.”