By Carson Kessler and Currie Engel
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents shot a Gravesend man in the face Thursday morning outside his Brooklyn home during an enforcement operation.
The federal agents descended on the W. 12th St. home with a warrant to arrest Gaspar Avendano-Hernandez, 33. ICE released a statement that referred to Avendano-Hernandez as a “a twice-removed illegal alien from Mexico with a 2011 assault conviction in New York City,”
Instead, Eric Diaz-Cruz, 26, the son of Gaspar Avendano-Hernandez’s girlfriend, was shot during the confrontation, according to ICE and law enforcement sources.
Avendano-Hernandez was returning home at around 8:15 a.m. from his construction job. According to federal authorities and witnesses, a scuffle ensued between the Diaz-Cruz, Avendano-Hernandez, and ICE agents, the New York Daily News initially reported.
Both men were tasered, according to the Daily News. ICE agents proceeded to shoot Diaz-Cruz, with the bullet ripping through his hand and into his face. Councilmember Carlos Menchaca says that two individuals —Diaz-Cruz and another unidentified individual— were taken to Maimonides Hospital in Gravesend and are in stable condition. Avendano-Hernadez is currently in custody.
Earlier this week, Avendano-Hernandez was arrested by the NYPD for driving with a forged Connecticut license plate, which is a felony. According to a statement released by ICE, agents attempted to lodge an immigration detainer, a 48-hour hold by law enforcement, after this arrest, yet the subject was released from local custody before ICE could lodge a detainer. “This forced ICE officers to locate him on the streets of New York rather than in the safe confines of a jail,” the statement said.
With conflicting initial information, the main goal is to understand the chain of events, said Menchaca. And despite grey skies and sputtering rain, many Brooklyn residents, volunteers, and activists gathered outside the hospital to do just that.
“There are lawyers right now connecting with the family just to ensure that there is legal representation, but we are still in investigation mode about what exactly happened,” said Menchaca to a visibly anxious crowd of onlookers. “The lawyers have to step in. They inform us about how to move forward.” It is unclear whether the family has officially secured legal representation.
Diaz-Cruz’s younger brother, Kevin Yanez-Cruz stood outside the hospital entrance this afternoon, wearing a dirtied neon-orange hoodie. The 19-year-old consulted with advocates before being escorted back into the ER waiting room.
While waiting outside the hospital for news from the family, volunteers from New Sanctuary Coalition and other immigration protection advocacy groups routinely surveilled the perimeter of Maimonides’ Weinberg Emergency Center, meticulously checking car windshields for telltale markers of ICE vehicles, often paper identification on the internal windshield. Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, said that the volunteers have spotted three of the seven previously reported ICE cars on their rounds.
“This is not a law enforcement agency, and for them to fire a gun in a residential area is obnoxious and wrong, and I’m here to fight and to stop that from happening ever again,” Ragbir, the coalition director, said. “We are here to show solidarity with the family, but we are also here to have ICE release the family, who they have taken under such extreme conditions.”
While some volunteers continued to stand in the rain Thursday afternoon, others stopped in the local 3-in-1 Grocery to warm up and get coffee while they waited for news.
“Right now, we’re sort of in a watching and waiting phase,” said Meryl Ranzer, media manager of New Sanctuary Coalition. Ranzer said other advocates are on their way to the hospital from all over the city.
“It’s horrifying,“ said Pam Schultz, 58, a Brooklyn resident and volunteer with New Sanctuary Coalition. “I mean, this is a very bad escalation.” Schultz said she showed up after hearing about the incident on Twitter from Never Again Action and New Sanctuary Coalition.
“To say they’ve overstepped their bounds is a gross understatement,” she continued. “All these things are happening every day, and people need to be aware of this.”
“And it’s unfortunate that it takes somebody getting shot in the face to get people to focus on it,” added Sam Rosen, 76, a resident who was born at the old Maimonides Hospital. Rosen came down to Brooklyn from Manhattan to show his support.
Others in the crowd seemed less concerned. At one point the gathering was interrupted by a man with a thick Russian accent chanting, “Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!” as he passed.
Around 4:30 p.m., Yanez-Cruz exited the hospital and entered a car. Advocates began to chant: “Full rights for immigrants, ICE out of New York!”