Unarmed man shot in face by ICE agent in Brooklyn files civil rights lawsuit

GRAVESEND, Brooklyn (WABC) -- The unarmed Mexican man shot in the face by a federal immigration officer earlier this month filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday.

Erick Diaz Cruz, 26, was visiting his mother in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn Feb. 6 when his lawsuit said he awoke to the sound of men's voices and banging on the door.

ICE officers were outside with his mother's boyfriend, Gaspar Avendano-Hernandez, who was being targeted for removal.

According to the lawsuit, an ICE officer fired a gun directly at Diaz Cruz's face. The bullet passed through his left hand and into his left cheek, fracturing multiple bones in his face and hand and lodging near his ear.

"This was not just an attack against me but also an attack against the entire Latino community in the United States," Diaz Cruz said in a statement. "Our community must come together to protest ICE's violence."

His attorney said Diaz Cruz was in the United States on a legitimate tourist visa.

"Along with millions of New Yorkers, we are heartbroken and sickened by ICE's senseless and unjustified shooting of Erick," said attorney Katie Rosenfeld, with Emery Celli Brinckerhoff and Abady. "Erick posed no threat to anyone, at any time. Erick's face is shattered, and he and his family are traumatized."

The lawsuit said the shooting left his life "forever altered."

"What had started as a pleasant vacation with his girlfriend to see his family in New York, and a welcome break from his steady job as a municipal employee in Veracruz, Mexico, became a horrific, life-altering trip causing him grave and permanent injuries," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit sought unspecified monetary damages and named as a defendant John Doe 1, an ICE officer.

At the time of the shooting, ICE said in a statement the shooting was provoked.

"A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Fugitive Operations Team discharged at least one firearm in Brooklyn, New York, Thursday morning when officers were physically attacked while attempting to arrest Gaspar Avendano-Hernandez, a twice-removed illegal alien from Mexico with a 2011 assault conviction in New York City," they said.

The case became fodder for an ongoing dispute between the Trump administration and New York over its sanctuary policies that give some shield to undocumented immigrants from federal enforcement.

Avendano-Hernandez had been arrested three days prior to the shooting for possession of a forged instrument. ICE tried to take him into custody on an immigration detainer, but city authorities do not recognize detainers unaccompanied by a signed arrest warrant.

"This forced ICE officers to locate him on the streets of New York rather than in the safe confines of a jail," the ICE statement said.

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