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Border agents brutal, she sez


BY XIAOHUI RESTALL
DAILY NEWS WRITER
Monday, July 26th, 2004

Sporting ugly bruises and crying through eyes nearly swollen shut, a diminutive Chinese businesswoman yesterday recounted her violent encounter with U.S. border agents in Niagara Falls.

Yan Zhao, 37, was on the Rainbow Bridge on the U.S.-Canadian border last Wednesday when Homeland Security Department agents caught a man who was trying to smuggle marijuana. Thinking she was with him, the agents sprayed her with pepper spray, threw her on the ground and repeatedly kicked her in the body and head, Zhao insisted yesterday.

"I always thought American policemen are very handsome, tall and strong. I never imagined they would inflict this kind of violence on a woman," Zhao said. "Spraying Mace is enough; why did they have to beat me?"

One federal officer, Robert Rhodes, has been charged with violating Zhao's civil rights. The U.S. attorney in Buffalo alleges the officer kneed the woman in the face and slammed her head against the ground.

Zhao, though, insists she was beaten by at least three customs and border protection agents.

"I think they all should be punished," said Zhao, a clothing company owner who was in the U.S. on a business trip. She had visited Philadelphia and New York City before goingto Niagara Falls. She plans to sue the U.S. government for at least $5 million.

Rhodes told investigators that Zhao and two friends ran from him and he used his pepper spray after Zhao flailed her arms at him. He said she was hurt when the two fell to the ground as he tried to subdue her.

Zhao tells a different story.

"He waved one hand to show me to stop, and the other hand pulled out the pepper Mace and sprayed it on me, my eyes first, and then my hair, my neck, all over me," she said.

"Next thing I knew I was on the ground, surrounded by at least three policemen and they all kicked my face and body with their leather shoes."

After the beating, Zhao ended up in a detention room. She said her eyes were swollen shut, a tooth was broken and her skin was burning from the pepper spray.

"I felt like I was dying," she said.

She was rushed to an emergency room in Niagara Falls. But Zhao broke down crying when she said the humiliation of the beating was worse than the physical pain.

"As a businesswoman, I was very confident," she said, "but now my confidence is all gone. I'm staying at a friend's apartment on a 25th floor. Sometimes, I just wanted to jump off."


 

 


 

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