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Aguasvivas v. Pompeo

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

September 18, 2019

MIKE POMPEO, Secretary of State, WILLIAM BARR, Attorney General, JOHN GIBBONS, U.S. Marshal for the District of Massachusetts, WING CHAU, U.S. Marshal for the District of Rhode Island, and DANIEL MARTIN, Warden, Wyatt Detention Facility Defendants.


          JOHN J. MCCONNELL, JR., United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Cristian Aguasvivas filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 and a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that he faces the prospect of being extradited for a crime he did not commit to a country whore he will be tortured. The Court grants Mr. Aguasvivas' Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, dismisses the Extradition Complaint for failure to comply with the relevant Treaty[1]; finds that Mr. Aguasvivas' extradition would violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Dec. 10, 1984, 1465 U.N.T.S. 85 ("CAT"), given the final Board of Immigration Appeals ruling; and orders Mr. Aguasvivas released from custody.

         I. FACTS

         On December 6, 2013, Mr. Aguasvivas, a cabinet-maker apprentice and father of two, was waiting outside his boss' house to travel with him to a job, when agents of the Dominican Republic's National Directorate for Drug Control (DNCD) dressed in civilian clothing[2] and in an unmarked vehicle tried to arrest him for suspected drug dealing in the Dominican Republic.

         Chaos erupted because Mr. Aguasvivas and his family and friends witnessing the event believed he was being kidnapped. The police cuffed Mr. Aguasvivas' hands in front of his body and forced him into the front passenger's seat of their unmarked vehicle. While two officers were physically pushing Mr. Aguasvivas into the vehicle, shots were fired. DNCD Agent Lorenzo Ubri Montero[3] died from his wounds, and Captain Felipe de Jesus Jimenez Garcia and Agent Jose Marino Hernandez Rodriguez[4] sustained non-fatal injuries in the commotion. Mr. Aguasvivas and his brother Francis Aguasvivas, who witnessed the event, fled from the scene.[5]

         Documents written after the incident give conflicting evidence of the perpetrator of the killing. The autopsy of Agent Ubri conducted hours after the shooting states that "[Agent Ubri] was seriously injured when he and other agents of the [DNCD] were performing an anti-drug operation, ..[and] tried to arrest and introduce into a vehicle to a presumed drug dealer, but they were injured by someone else, who tried to stop the arrest." ECF No. 9-4 at 71. It also states that the decedent was killed by "distant" wounding. Id. But the arrest warrant issued by the Dominican police the day of the shooting, states "at the moment when the agents of the [DNCD] were making an anti-drug operation and were preparing to arrest Estarling Aguasvivas[6]... [he] disarmed and fired three shots to the [decedent]." Id. at 64. An affidavit by the Dominican prosecutor, written three years later, alleges that Mr. Aguasvivas "in a surprising way, attacked to the agent the [decedent], to whom disarmed and killed, opening fire on all the agents of the [DNCD] that were present." Id. at 58. In a supplemental affidavit dated four months later, the prosecutor asserts that the two "surviving victims of the shootout attack on the anti-narcotics patrol carried out by [Mr. Aguasvivas]" are "eyewitnesses because they saw [Mr. Aguasvivas] disarm, shoot, and kill the [decedent]." Id. at 84.

         Following the shooting, to extract information from them about Mr. Aguasvivas' location, the DNCD tortured members of Mr. Aguasvivas' family, according to four family members.[7] See ECF No. 9"2 at 16"18 (summarizing the torture victims' testimony). The victims consistently testified about "having D black bags placed over their heads and onions placed in their mouths, " and that "the black bag/onion tactic, [was] intended to simulate/cause suffocation." ECF No. 95 at 2.

         The Dominican police shot and killed Mr. Aguasvivas' brother, Francis Aguasvivas, soon after the brothers went their separate ways. Mr. Francis Aguasvivas' autopsy shows that he was killed "by contact of a firearm projectile" to the chest and lists his manner of death as homicide caused by wound to the heart. ECF No. 9-7 at 5, 6. The police maintain that they killed him in a shootout.

         Mr. Aguasvivas fled the country and came to the United States upon hearing the news of his family's torture and his brother's death.


         Immigration Proceedings

         Upon arrival in the United States, Mr. Aguasvivas sought asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the CAT in immigration court. The Immigration Judge held nine hearings and considered the testimony of ten witnesses. See ECF No. 9-2 at 14-15 (listing witnesses). Mr. Aguasvivas testified and called eight witnesses; Joseline Ballez, Angel Pimenthal, Keila Aguasvivas, and Sandra Aguasvivas testified to being tortured; Yolanda Diaz testified as a percipient witness! and three individuals testified as character witnesses. The Government called one witness, a DEA agent working in the Dominican Republic. See Id. at 13-14 (summarizing the DEA agent's testimony). Mr. Aguasvivas also presented reports and articles documenting human rights violations by the Dominican police. See Id. at 2-3, 5. The Government submitted documents in support of its allegation that Mr. Aguasvivas committed the shooting, including the Dominican arrest warrant, police reports, an Interpol notice for Mr. Aguasvivas, and news articles about Mr. Aguasvivas' involvement in the shooting. See Id. at 4-5.

         The Immigration Judge found that Mr. Aguasvivas was not eligible for asylum or withholding of removal because he did not establish persecution because of his race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. See Id. at 29. The Immigration Judge also found there were "serious reasons for believing" that Mr. Aguasvivas had committed the murder, a serious nonpolitical crime. See Id. at 26, 29. The Immigration Judge also denied Mr. Aguasvivas the CAT relief. See Id. at 30, 31. Mr. Aguasvivas appealed.

         The Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") reversed the decision on the CAT relief, concluding that Mr. Aguasvivas "met his burden of demonstrating on this record that it is more likely than not that he will be tortured at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of public official[s] in the Dominican Republic." ECF No. 9-5 at 2. Significantly, the BIA held that

The record contains evidence of human rights conditions in the Dominican Republic, including evidence revealing that despite efforts to curb abuses, there have been persistent reports of arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, impunity, and corruption involving police and security forces, and that "the police were involved in incidents that resulted in maiming or severe injury to unarmed civilians." Indeed, "[a]lthough the law prohibits torture, beatings, and physical abuse of detainee and prisoners, there were instances in which members of the security forces, primarily police, reportedly carried out such practices."

Id. (internal citations omitted). The BIA granted Mr. Aguasvivas withholding of removal. ECF No. 9-8. This represented the final order on the CAT. Mr. Aguasvivas was released from custody and the United States Government was barred from removing him from this country because of the likelihood that he would be tortured.

         Extradition Proceedings

         About one year after the BIA granted Mr. Aguasvivas withholding of removal under the CAT, the United States Government filed an Extradition Complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. In re Aguasvivas, Misc. No. 17-MJ-4218-DHH (D. Mass. Sept. 13, 2017). The request sought extradition on conspiracy, homicide, illegal possession of firearm, and robbery charges stemming from his arrest in the Dominican Republic. ECF No. 9-4 at 56. The United States Marshal Service detained Mr. Aguasvivas and he has been in federal custody at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island for the last two years. Mr. Aguasvivas moved to dismiss the Extradition Complaint. The Magistrate Judge held a hearing on the motion to dismiss and an evidentiary hearing on the extradition request.

         The Magistrate Judge found that the Treaty between the United States and the Dominican Republic was in full force and effect, and that the Treaty covered the crimes for which the Dominican Republic requested surrender. ECF No. 9-12 at 12-16. He also found that there was enough evidence to support a probable cause finding on the charges of robbery, illegal possession of firearms, and murder, denying certification on the conspiracy charges. Id. at ¶ 17-31. He later issued an Order denying the motion to dismiss, issued a Certificate of Extraditability, and an Order of Commitment. Id. at 2, 38-39. The Magistrate Judge did not have the issue of the CAT before him. The matter now comes here by a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, in essence appealing the Magistrate Judge's order.[8]


         Mr. Aguasvivas sets forth two arguments in seeking review of the Magistrate Judge's certificate of extradition. First, he challenges his extradition under the Treaty between the two countries by both claiming that there was no probable cause established that he committed the crimes, and that the Dominican Republic government did not meet the documentary requirements of the Treaty. Second, he argues that extradition is unlawful under the CAT because he will be tortured in the Dominican Republic if the United States returns him there. While the Court agrees with some of Mr. Aguasvivas' arguments and disagrees with others, ultimately it finds that Mr. Aguasvivas is not extraditable under either the Treaty or the CAT.


         1. Probable Cause Finding

         a. Standard of Review

         An extradition request must establish probable cause that the accused committed the offense or offenses for which extradition is sought. 18 U.S.C. § 3184; see Treaty. The First Circuit has held that on habeas corpus review of a Certificate of Extraditability, the court need only examine the Magistrate Judge's determination of probable cause to see if there is "any evidence" to support it. United States v. Kin-Hong, 110 F.3d 103, 116 (1st Cir. 1997) (citing Fernandez v. Phillips, 268 U.S. 311, 312 (1925)). Previously, the Circuit interpreted the concept of "any evidence" liberally and historically conducted a deferential review of a magistrate judge's findings. See Koskotas v. Roche, 931 F.2d 169, 176 (1st Cir. 1991); In re Extradition of Manzi, 888 F.2d 204, 205 (1st Cir. 1989); Brauch v. Raiche, 618 F.2d 843, 854 (1st Cir. 1980); Greci v. Birknes, 527 F.2d 956, 958 (1st Cir. 1976).

         But in Kin-Hong, the First Circuit acknowledged that other appellate courts have engaged in a more rigorous review of the evidence presented before a magistrate judge, that "it is arguable that the 'any evidence' standard is an anachronism, and that this court should engage in a more searching review of the magistrate's probable cause findings." Kin-Hong, 110 F.3d at 117. Despite this reflection, the court failed to adopt explicitly a more searching review because the government had met its burden in that case through whatever prism the court reviewed the record. Id. Thus, the Court need only examine the Magistrate Judge's determination of probable cause to see if there is "any evidence" to support it.

         b. Any Competent Evidence

         In support of probable cause, the Government, on behalf of the Dominican Republic, offered: (1) the affidavit of Dominican Prosecutor Feliz Sanchez Arias, which attached the arrest warrant; the autopsy report for Agent Ubri; medical certificates for the two other drug agents who were shot; and two photographs of the person sought, ' (2) the supplemental affidavit of Prosecutor Sanchez; (3) the declaration and the supplement of State Department legal counsel Tom Heinemann! and (4) the second additional affidavit of Prosecutor Sanchez.

         Contesting probable cause, Mr. Aguasvivas submitted: (1) a YouTube video of the shooting; (2) his concession that he is the person in the video wearing a blue shirt; (3) a Spanish transcription and English translation of statements heard on the video; (4) the affidavit of Prosecutor Sanchez in support of extraditing Mr. Aguasvivas' uncle, Ramon Emilio Aguasvivas; (5) transcriptions and translations of pertinent articles of the Dominican Criminal Procedure Code; (6) an affidavit of attorney Ambar M. Maceo, about the elements necessary to charge the crime of conspiracy under the Dominican Criminal Code; and (7) a decision from the Supreme Court of Justice of the Dominican Republic on the elements of conspiracy.

         The Magistrate Judge's probable cause determination was based in part on Prosecutor Sanchez's affidavit recounting the incident and citing two eyewitnesses to the shooting.[9] ECF No. 9-12 at 20 ("In a nutshell, the prosecutor assigned to investigate this matter has sworn in an affidavit that two police officers who were present-and who were themselves wounded during the crime-saw Mr. Aguasvivas shoot Agent Ubri, and that Agent Ubri died of the gunshot wounds Mr. Aguasvivas inflicted. While a more detailed affidavit certainly could have been presented, more is not necessary to establish probable cause."). The Magistrate Judge also found that the autopsy report and the video evidence supported a probable cause finding. Id., at 20-21. He held that three bullets fired at short range to the area of the heart, as documented in the autopsy report, are enough to establish probable cause that Mr. Aguasvivas shot Agent Ubri with the intent to kill him. Id, at 20. He also held that the video supports a probable cause finding because it shows that the arrest occurred in good light with the agents within feet of Mr. Aguasvivas when the shots were fired, and thus they were well positioned to see the shooting and identify the shooter. Id. at 21.

         Through the generous and deferential prism of "any evidence warranting the finding that there was reasonable ground to believe the accused guilty, " the Court finds that the Magistrate Judge's probable cause determination was supported by evidence (the affidavit, the video, the autopsy physical findings) and so this Court must uphold that decision.[10] Fernandez, 268 U.S. at 312.

         2. Treaty Compliance

         Article 7 § 3 of the Treaty states that "a request for extradition of a person sought for prosecution shall [] be supported by, " inter alia-

(a) a copy of the warrant or order of arrest or detention issued by a judge or other ...

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