By LISA ORKIN EMMANUEL
Posted January 27 2005, 2:26 PM EST
MIAMI—A federal agent testified Thursday that he sprayed a tear gas gun at demonstrators outside the home of Elian Gonzalez’s Miami relatives to keep them from surging over barricades and interfering with the raid to seize the boy and return him to his father in Cuba.
Agent Daniel J. Dargan, testifying in a lawsuit brought against the U.S. government by 13 people who say they were injured by agents, said he was the only one assigned a gas gun during the April 2000 raid and did not remember which supervisor assigned it to him.
``I never sprayed it directly at one person,’’ Dargan said.
The 13 plaintiffs _ nine people in neighboring houses and four women who were behind police barricades _ are seeking up $250,000. They blame their injuries and emotional distress on biased agents bearing shotguns and gas guns.
U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore is hearing the non-jury trial, which is expected to end Friday. He has given no indication when he will announce his verdict.
Dargan testified he sprayed the gas intermittently to make the crowd recede after a chair and other objects were thrown over the police barricade.
He added that no one ordered him to spray the gas, but sprayed ``in response to the crowd surging toward the barricade,’’ Dargan said.
Dargan, who was wearing a gas mask, also testified that he did not hear anything or speak during the three-minute raid. He also said he did not warn the crowd that he would spray gas.
``I had no time to say anything. I had no need to say anything,’’ Dargan said.
The neighbors have testified that the agents did not identify themselves or warn the bystanders before spraying the gas.
Plaintiff attorney Larry Klayman tried to ask Dargan about allegations that some agents involved in the raid voiced and demonstrated anti-Cuban bias, but Moore wouldn’t let him, saying the testimony would be irrelevant.
More than 90 other people were dropped earlier from the suit claiming the 151-agent team used excessive force. The judge ruled the government was entitled to immunity for people at the Gonzalez house, anyone who jumped the barricades and people living beyond the barricades.
Elian survived a shipwreck that killed his mother and seven others fleeing Cuba in November 1999. His Miami relatives balked at returning him to his father in Cuba.
The Easter weekend raid snatched the screaming 6-year-old boy from the home. Father and son headed home to instant celebrity and visits with Cuban President Fidel Castro.