CBP accused of negligence in wrongful death lawsuit

The decomposing body of Martin Gomez-Arellano was found inside an impounded tractor-trailer after bodily fluids and a strong foul odor caught the attention of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.

The shocking discovery was made Oct. 6, 2017 — three days after CBP officials at the Falfurrias checkpoint stopped the tractor-trailer destined for Houston.

>> READ THE LAWSUIT

Gomez-Arellano was one of two Mexican nationals hiding inside the truck, which CBP officers stopped at about midnight Oct. 3, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed May 13 in the Corpus Christi division.

During that stop, officers found one stowaway, Roberto Rico-Duran, stuffed inside a closet behind the driver’s seat. They detained him and the driver, Juan Enrique Escobedo-Moreno, of Weslaco, but did not inspect the rest of the vehicle.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of Gomez-Arellano’s mother and his estate alleges CBP officers “negligently failed to conduct a search, inspection, and inventory of the tractor-trailer and its closed containers,” as required by CBP’s own field manual.

The suit claims this led to Gomez-Arellano’s “slow, unimaginably painful death.”

“He died trapped and crammed in a closed container, locked from the outside, where his body slowly decomposed in the South Texas heat,” the lawsuit stated.

CBP’s inspector’s field manual, states, among other instructions, that after a “conveyance” has been seized, “all containers must be opened and their contents inventoried as part of the inventory, unless their contents can be accurately ascertained by examination of the container,” the court filing read.

“CBP employees either negligently failed to follow CBP requirements by failing to conduct a thorough search and inspection and inventory of the tractor-trailer, or, in the alternative, CBP employees intentionally, knowingly or recklessly left Mr. Gomez Arellano to die inside the trailer,” the lawsuit stated. “Because of the actions of CBP employees, Mr. Gomez Arellano was robbed of the opportunity to live out the rest of his life.”

CBP officials declined to speak about the case as litigation remains pending.

The lawsuit includes four federal tort claims, or claims made against the federal government for damages caused by federal employees in the scope of their work. They include alleged gross negligence in failing to check the trailer further, assault and battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

This is in addition to “intentional infliction of emotional distress” on Gomez-Arellano’s mother for experiencing the loss of her son.

On April 10, 2018, the driver was sentenced to more than 17 years in federal prison after he agreed to plead guilty to a bringing in and harboring charge, court records show. Escobedo-Moreno will be required to serve an additional three years of supervised release upon completion of his prison term.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking actual and compensatory damages for the death of Gomez-Arellano that resulted from the alleged negligence of the U.S. government’s employees, the document read.

An initial pretrial and scheduling conference hearing is set for Aug. 8, court notes show.