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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Holding-Cell Death Angers Hondurans

Holding-Cell Death Angers Hondurans
Consul general views a tape of the suspect, who died in Temecula after his arrest. The Border Patrol should have monitored him, she says.
By Lance Pugmire
Times Staff Writer

July 7, 2004

A grainy videotape of a Honduran national who died in a U.S. Border Patrol holding cell in Temecula shows the man choked to death when a 4-foot chain binding his handcuffs and leg chains wound around his neck, according to Honduran officials in Los Angeles.

The tape, which has not been made public, was shown to Honduran Consul General Vivian Panting on Tuesday by homicide detectives with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, who are investigating the death.

Panting said that the videotape convinced her that Ecar Paz Moradel, 28, committed suicide but that the tape was of such poor quality that it was difficult to tell say definitively what occurred.

Still, Panting said, the tape left her "mad and very disappointed" with the Border Patrol for failing to properly monitor Paz Moradel and failing to notify Honduran officials that he was in custody, which is required.

"I don't understand how that many officers with that many video cameras could not see what was happening in there," Panting said. "If they believed he was under the influence of drugs, why would they give him such a long chain? I don't understand why we weren't notified he was there. Only that one call would have saved a human life."

Panting met with Paz Moradel's two brothers Tuesday and said the family wants an explanation.

Border Patrol spokesman Richard Kite referred all questions to the sheriff's office, saying only that no agents involved had been disciplined.

The Riverside County coroner conducted an autopsy on Paz Moradel on Tuesday but did not release his cause of death. Coroner's officials will forward the report to a coroner's review panel, which could take as long as two months to disclose Paz Moradel's official cause of death, said a Riverside County sheriff's-coroner's spokesman.

Luis Carrillo, an attorney for the Honduran consul general, said coroner's officials told Honduran representatives Tuesday that toxicological tests were required to provide "a definitive cause of death."

Paz Moradel was turned over to the Border Patrol by Corona police, who arrested him a week ago on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance, then detained him again Thursday morning after he allegedly tried to break into a veterinary hospital.

The man, suspected of being an undocumented immigrant, allegedly became "combative" when agents told him he was going to be kept in a holding cell at the Temecula station while awaiting deportation, a sheriff's spokesman said. Border Patrol officials told the Honduran consul's office that Paz Moradel punched an agent and had to be subdued with pepper spray.

Two hours after Paz Moradel was placed in the holding cell, he was found dead. Border Patrol officials called the sheriff's office, reporting an attempted suicide, sheriff's officials said.

A video camera in the cell captured his death, and the tape was turned over to sheriff's homicide detectives.

Carrillo, who also saw the tape, said the black-and-white videotape frequently skips two to three seconds of action.

The videotape showed Paz Moradel entering the cell at 7:22 p.m. Thursday and sitting on a bench, Carrillo said. Paz Moradel then lay on the bench and raised his knees, as if he's "trying to give more play to the chain," before settling into a "more fetal position," Carrillo said.

At 8:10 p.m., Paz Moradel fell from the bench to the floor and appeared to be struggling until he went limp. The tape showed a Border Patrol agent checking on him at 8:45 pm, Carrillo said.

"The real questions are: Who was around to watch this? Why didn't they check on him more thoroughly? Was there any physical contact upon him before he went into that cell?" he said.

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