A Border Patrol agent who chased and knocked down an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala with his service vehicle while apprehending the man near the Mariposa Port of Entry has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense, avoiding a trial that was set to begin Monday at U.S. District Court in Tucson.
Matthew Bowen faces up to a year in prison and a maximum fine of $100,000 under the terms of the plea agreement he signed last Thursday, in which he pleaded guilty to violating his victim’s constitutional rights while acting under governmental authority. He could also be given up to five years of probation when he’s sentenced on Oct. 15.
As the factual basis for his guilty plea, Bowen admitted that he was on duty as a Border Patrol agent near Nogales on Dec. 3, 2017 when he arrested a man, later identified as a 23-year-old citizen of Guatemala, for unlawful entry into the United States.
“During my apprehension of (the victim), I intentionally struck him with an unreasonable amount of force,” he acknowledged, adding that his actions toward the man “were not justified and violated his rights protected by the Constitution of the United States.”
Border Patrol surveillance cameras captured the incident, in which the man tried to avoid apprehension by running toward the port. Instead, Bowen chased him in his truck, striking him twice with the front of his Ford F-150 service vehicle. According to an earlier motion filed by the prosecution, the victim was taken to the hospital for treatment of “abrasions on several parts of his body where he hit the ground, as well as pain in his back where he was hit by the truck.”
Bowen’s plea agreement states that he agreed to submit a letter of resignation to the Border Patrol immediately following the change of plea hearing. A minute entry from the Aug. 8 hearing shows that U.S. Attorney Monica Ryan confirmed that she had received the letter.
The case attracted widespread attention after prosecutors sought to introduce into evidence a number of text messages that Bowen had sent to fellow Border Patrol agents in which he repeatedly used the terms “Guat” and “tonk” – derogatory terms for Guatemalans and undocumented immigrants – as well as other offensive language and slurs.
In one of several messages sent to Lonnie Swartz, the agent accused and eventually acquitted of murdering a 16-year-old Sonoran youth in Nogales in 2012, Bowen railed against “mindless murdering savages” and “disgusting subhuman sh-t unworthy of being kindling for a fire” after an incident in which suspects threw rocks at agents.
The prosecution also disclosed in a pre-trial motion that Bowen had been investigated for using excessive force on five previous occasions, including one incident in which he transported a handcuffed detainee on the front of an ATV, then slammed on the brakes, injuring the person by launching them forward from the vehicle.
The initial criminal indictment filed May 30 against Bowen also accused him of knowingly falsifying records in a federal investigation when he stated in an official memo that he never intended to strike the victim with his truck, and didn’t know if he had.
That charge was dropped as part of his plea deal.