(CNN) — A Mexican municipal worker visiting his mother in New York endured a “horrific, life-altering trip” after being shot point-blank in the face by a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Erick Diaz Cruz, 26, was traveling with his girlfriend on tourist visas when he became embroiled in a confrontation between ICE agents and his mother’s longtime partner earlier this month in Brooklyn. The suit was filed in the Eastern District of New York against an unnamed federal officer.
ICE declined comment on the pending litigation.
The agency has said two federal officers were “physically attacked” and had to be taken to a hospital February 6 after the arrest of Gaspar Avendaño-Hernandez — identified by ICE as a twice-removed undocumented immigrant with a 2011 assault conviction.
The suit said Diaz Cruz rushed from his mother’s home that morning to find two men in a confrontation with Avendaño-Hernandez.
“Standing only a few feet from one of the officers, Mr. Diaz Cruz saw the ICE officer reach for something at his hip,” the complaint said. “Mr. Diaz Cruz covered his face for protection. The ICE officer fired a gun directly at Mr. Diaz Cruz’s face. The bullet passed through Mr. Diaz Cruz’s left hand and into his left cheek, lodging behind his ear.”
After the shooting, ICE said an agent fired a weapon and struck another man suspected of interfering with the arrest.
The incident is being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General.
The shooting escalated the political war of words between New York City and Washington over so-called sanctuary cities — a broad term applied to jurisdictions with policies limiting cooperation with or involvement in federal immigration enforcement actions. It also sparked street protests.
Diaz Cruz, in a statement released by his attorney, called the incident “an attack against the entire Latino community in the United States.”
“A young, hard-working and law-abiding man was gunned down on the streets of Brooklyn in broad daylight in front of his family, shot in the face at point blank range, by an agent of the United States government,” his attorney, Katie Rosenfeld, said in a statement.
“Erick posed no threat to anyone, at any time. Erick’s face is shattered, and he and his family are traumatized.”
The suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, said Diaz Cruz was not armed and the officers not under threat.
“Mr. Diaz Cruz’s shooting, at the start of the school and work day, in the middle of a quiet Brooklyn neighborhood full of young families, was senseless and unjustified,” the complaint said.
The suit said Diaz Cruz had two surgeries and suffered face and hand fractures, and he will likely live with a bullet in his neck for the rest of his life. He can’t move his left hand and arm and has vision loss in his left eye, the complaint said.
Diaz Cruz, an assistant to a mayor in the Mexican state of Veracruz, had arrived in Brooklyn on January 25 for a two-week stay with his mother, the suit said.
Mounting tensions between local and federal authorities come as US Customs and Border Protection agents and officers are being deployed to cities across the country to support interior immigration enforcement, two sources familiar with plans said Friday.
The agency is expected to deploy 100 officers and agents to Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, New Orleans, Detroit and Newark, New Jersey, one source said.