A former Border Patrol agent was sentenced Wednesday to three months of probation and 150 hours of community service – but no prison time – for chasing and knocking down an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala with his service vehicle near the Mariposa Port of Entry.
Matthew Bowen, 39, had faced up to a year in prison and a maximum fine of $100,000 under the terms of the plea agreement he signed in August to avoid trial. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Ferraro opted for no prison, no fine and a special assessment fee of $25 when he sentenced Bowen for the misdemeanor offense of violating his victim’s constitutional rights while acting under governmental authority.
On Dec. 3, 2017, Border Patrol surveillance cameras were rolling as a man later identified as a 23-year-old Guatemalan citizen tried to avoid apprehension by running toward the Mariposa port. Bowen chased him in his truck, striking him twice with the front of his Ford F-150 service vehicle.
According to motion filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the victim was later 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.”
According to court documents, a pre-sentence report prepared by the Probation Department at U.S. District Court recommended that Bowen serve six months behind bars for the offense, citing as “aggravation” six previous instances of poor behavior that occurred between 2012 and 2015.
Five of the events involved alleged physical abuse, 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.
The pre-sentence report writer reportedly said the incidents illustrated Bowen’s “inappropriate use of force and abuse of power” and showed that the offense near the port “was not out of character for the defendant.”
But Bowen’s lawyer Sean Chapman wrote in an objection that of the six incidents, the only one for which Bowen received a formal admonishment did not involve his interaction with suspects, and instead involved damage to a government vehicle he was driving.
Chapman also described Bowen as a devoted family man and noted that he has no prior criminal history.
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.
Chapman wrote that Bowen worked in real estate for a year and “did well” after earning his real estate license in August 2018, “but lost his job as a result of the media coverage of this case.”
An 11-year veteran of the Border Patrol, Bowen agreed as part of his plea deal to resign from the agency immediately after his change-of-plea hearing in August.
He will also have to pay a yet-to-be determined amount of restitution to his victim. Reporter Michel Marizco of KJZZ radio, who was at the courthouse on Wednesday, tweeted that the amount is expected to be approximately $8,000.