USA

Before Helping Cyclist Hit By Truck, A Cop Asks: ‘You’re Illegal?’

Later, the injured man, an undocumented immigrant in Florida, was detained by federal immigration agents

USA
May 25, 2017 at 2:58 PM ET

Marcos Antonio Huete lay sprawled along the sidewalk near his broken bicycle when the sheriff’s sergeant arrived. Moments earlier, a pickup truck had struck the cyclist near a three-way intersection in Key West, Florida.

But before Sgt. David Lariz asked whether the 31-year-old Huete needed medical assistance last month, he wanted to know about the injured man’s immigration status.

“You’re illegal? Are you a legal citizen or no?” Lariz can be heard asking Huete in body cam footage recently released by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. Lariz peppered the undocumented immigrant with other probing questions, such as whether he spoke English and if he had a passport or other form of ID. Only then did the sergeant inquire if the man wanted an ambulance.

The April incident, which was first reported by Univision on Monday, offers an unsettling look at an exchange between local authorities and an injured undocumented man that’s been criticized by immigration and civil rights groups. And, in this case, the encounter helped lead to Huete’s arrest and likely deportation.

“It’s really outrageous that the first response of a first responder was not about the safety or well-being of a victim but whether or not he was in the country legally,” Maria Rodriguez, the executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, told Vocativ. “When law enforcement is more concerned about immigration status than public safety it undermines the integrity of their own work and that hurts us all.”

A Honduran immigrant, Huete has lived in the U.S. illegally for at least seven years, Univision reported. His family said he worked construction jobs and for a few local restaurants to support his mother and two daughters back home.

Huete was riding his bicycle to work on the morning of April 27 when a woman driving a GMC Sierra pickup truck struck him from behind in a pedestrian crosswalk, according to Univision and a police incident report. Soon after, Lariz showed up and began the brief interrogation.

Becky Herrin, a spokeswoman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, told Vocativ that the department has no official policy when it comes to its personnel inquiring about a person’s immigration status at the scene of the accident. Herrin declined to comment on whether Lariz, who has been with the agency since 2002, should have offered medical aid to the injured man before asking the probing questions.

Howard Simon, the executive director of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, however, had some choice words.

“Asking for immigration status to a person after being hit by a car offends human rights sensitivity and is very counterproductive for effective law enforcement,” he told Univision.

Later, Huete went with his sister to the hospital, where he was given crutches and pain medication. After being discharged, the pair was asked by a law enforcement officer to return to the scene of the accident.

“He did not tell us why, but we went back because my brother had not done anything,” Olga Huete, Marcos’ sister, told Univision. “We had no reason to flee.”

When Huete arrived, he was first fined $75 by an officer with Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, who determined Huete was responsible for the accident, Univsion reported. Then, Border Patrol agents showed up and took him into custody. According to the agency, Huete has an order for removal dating back to 2010 and faces criminal charges for re-entering the U.S. illegally.

He’s since spent more than a month in the Krome Detention Center near Miami, where he awaits deportation.

“The moment these agents become the mass deportation force of President [Donald] Trump will be the end of any cooperation between immigrant communities in the United States and the local police,” Simon said.