Judge Will Rule on INS Default in Smuggler's Lawsuit

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge is expected to rule next week on a motion by a convicted alien smuggler who seeks to uphold a default in a lawsuit the smuggler filed against border authorities, who he says severely beat him and denied him medical care for two days.

Arturo Halog Huerte, a U. S. citizen who has had his share of run-ins with the U. S. Border Patrol, filed a civil suit against the Immigration and Naturalization Service after he was convicted on criminal charges of alien smuggling and sentenced to two years in federal prison. He seeks unspecified damages related to the alleged beating he suffered at the time of his arrest.

Failed to Respond Within 60 Days

The INS had 60 days in which to respond after the lawsuit was filed in 1988, but failed to do so. The agency's attorney has said a heavy workload caused him to miss the deadline, and has asked the judge to remove the default.

The main claim in Halog's lawsuit is that, immediately after his arrest, he was taken to San Clemente Hospital in Orange County, where a doctor in the emergency room diagnosed a fractured skull and other injuries and insisted that Halog be hospitalized. According to the court documents, filed in U. S. District Court, the doctor initially refused to allow Border Patrol agents to remove Halog from the hospital. However, he relented when the agents allegedly told him that Halog was to be transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in San Diego.

Instead, Halog was taken to a small holding cell in San Ysidro, where he remained for two days without medical care or medication, the suit claims. On the third day, after his brother and an attorney had traced his whereabouts, Border Patrol agents took Halog to the MCC, where prison officials took note of the injuries and refused to admit him until he was seen by a doctor.

The documents say that Halog was then taken to Harbor View Medical Center, where a doctor rediagnosed a fractured skull, broken nose and other injuries. Halog was subsequently hospitalized for two days before being released to the MCC officials.

Halog was arrested early the morning of March 17, 1986, near the San Onofre Border Patrol checkpoint. After agents stopped him on suspicion of alien smuggling, Halog attempted to escape on foot, the documents say. When he was captured, an agent punched and beat him on the face and head with a flashlight, they say.

During the criminal trial, a Border Patrol agent admitted hitting Halog with the flashlight once. No agents were disciplined in the incident.

Excess Force Denied

In court papers filed by an attorney for the INS, the government's lawyer said that "at no time did any agent use more force than was necessary to subdue plaintiff and place him lawfully under arrest."

Halog was placed in custody and taken to San Clemente Hospital, where his injuries were diagnosed as a fractured skull, broken nose and numerous bruises. The doctor told the agents that he wanted Halog hospitalized, but agreed to release him after they assured him Halog would be taken to the MCC, the suit says.

"The physician noted on the release form that (Halog) was to be transported to MCC by the Border Patrol agents," the suit says. "In truth and fact, the agents took (Halog) to a holding cell near the international border in San Ysidro for unexplained reasons. (He) was held at this cell by the Border Patrol for two days without medical care or pain medication."

After his eventual hospitalization at Harbor View Medical Center, Halog was tried and convicted for alien smuggling. He served two years in custody.

Within months of his release, he was convicted again of alien smuggling and served another six months in federal custody.

No Bearing on Case

Raymond Buendia, Halog's attorney in the lawsuit, declined to comment on it, but said his client's criminal convictions have no bearing on the current case. Buendia sued for damages in 1988, and INS attorneys failed to respond within the 60 days required by law. The attorney then requested that the judge declare the government in default.

INS attorney Charles Hamilton has asked U. S. District Judge Rudi M. Brewster to remove the default, arguing that he had good cause for missing the deadline. Hamilton could not be reached for comment Monday, but in court documents he argued that he was overwhelmed by other pending cases and legal matters involving his office.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for next Monday, when Brewster is expected to rule on the motion.

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