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
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
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
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."