The Slatest

Border Patrol Agent Charged With Hitting Guatemalan Man With Truck Had Called Migrants “Subhuman” and “Savages”

Migrants, mostly from Central America, board a van which will take them to a processing center.
Migrants board a van to a processing center on Thursday in El Paso, Texas. Matthew Bowen is not pictured.
Paul Ratje/Getty Images

A Border Patrol agent who was charged with hitting a migrant at the border with his truck and lying about the incident had, in texts to another agent, used hateful language to describe Central American migrants, calling them “savages” and “subhuman shit,” according to the Arizona Daily Star.

The texts come from documents filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson, Arizona, in the case of Nogales Border Patrol Agent Matthew Bowen. Bowen was indicted by a federal grand jury in May 2018 over an incident that occurred in December 2017.

Bowen believed migrants are “disgusting subhuman shit unworthy of being kindling for a fire,” according to the documents. “PLEASE let us take the gloves off trump!” he said in another text to fellow agent Lonnie Ray Swartz, who at the time was facing murder and manslaughter charges for shooting through the border fence in Nogales in 2012, hitting 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, who had been allegedly throwing rocks toward the agents, 10 times. (Swartz was acquitted.) Bowen also texted Swartz in 2017 that rock throwers were “mindless murdering savages.”

Federal prosecutors, in filing the documents, were asking a judge to allow the texts as evidence of his attitude toward the migrants he apprehends at the border. But according to Bowen’s defense attorney, certain terms are “commonplace throughout the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, that it is part of the agency’s culture, and therefore says nothing about Mr. Bowen’s mind-set,” according to the Daily Star.

Other examples the prosecutors give are equally offensive. In one, someone asks Bowen, “Did you gas hiscorpse or just use regular peanut oil while tazing?? For a frying effect.” To which Bowen responds, “Guats are best made crispy with an olive oil from their native pais.” In another, sent before the December 2017 incident, he complained that Border Patrol was a “failed agency” because “we are treated like shit, prosecuted for doing what it takes to arrest these savages….” (He said he would also miss the “chase of hunting down shitbags with your crew.”)

Bowen has a record of alleged violence on the job, according to the Daily Star. In one instance, he was accused of searching a car without probable cause, pulling the car’s occupant out forcefully, and throwing him to the ground. One agent alleged Bowen “tackled” a migrant to the ground after the migrant had stopped running, busting the migrant’s lip. One migrant said Bowen had pulled him from the ground by handcuffs after he had tripped, injuring his wrists. Another migrant said that while he was handcuffed in a vehicle Bowen was driving, Bowen suddenly and intentionally slammed on the brakes, causing the migrant to be injured when he was thrown forward into the dashboard.

The incident that led to his charges occurred when he and two other Border Patrol agents chased down a man who appeared to have jumped the border fence near the Mariposa Port of Entry, according to a sworn affidavit filed by a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. As the man, 23-year-old Antolin Lopez Aguilar, ran back toward the port of entry after being found at a gas station parking lot, Bowen allegedly “accelerated aggressively into a position behind the running Lopez Aguilar” and struck the man twice with his Ford F-150, knocking him to the ground. The truck “came to a full stop within inches of running Lopez-Aguilar over where he lay on the ground,” according to the special agent.

Lopez was taken to a hospital and treated for minor injuries and sentenced the next day to 30 days in federal prison for illegally crossing the border, according to the Daily Star. After Bowen learned he was being investigated over the incident, he sent a memo to the chief patrol agent arguing he had been unfamiliar with the truck’s acceleration and had not intended to actually hit Lopez, according to prosecutors.

Bowen, a 10-year veteran of the agency, was charged with depriving Lopez of his civil rights and falsifying records. He was placed on indefinite suspension without pay in June 2018, and his trial is scheduled to start in August.