CATHERINE WILSON | Associated Press
MIAMI - The estranged relatives of Elián González claimed in a federal lawsuit Tuesday that six federal agents used excessive force in an armed raid on their home to seize the boy and return him to Cuba.
Elián’s cousin, great-uncle and his wife claim the armed officers broke down the front door unannounced, sprayed irritating gas, held people at gunpoint and shouted obscenities at sleepy, unarmed relatives, supporters and news media in the pre-dawn raid in April 2000.
“There was no sort of resistance,” said Ed Farres, an attorney for Judicial Watch, a Washington-based legal watchdog group representing the family. The agents “were told, ‘Put your guns down. You can take him.’ None of that was heeded.”
Elián returned home with his father two months later and recently celebrated his 10th birthday Friday with Cuban President Fidel Castro, who insisted in a two-hour speech at the boy’s school that his communist system will survive him.
Speaking outside the raided house-turned-museum, great-uncle Lazaro González said the Cuban government has banned any communication between the boy and his Miami relatives.
“They took the boy with all that violence in a country with so much freedom,” González said. “This case is about what really happened in this house on that dawn of infamy.”
Charles Miller, Justice Department spokesman in Washington, said he knew nothing about the lawsuit and had no comment.
A total of 151 armed agents raided the house where about 50 supporters held a vigil outside hoping to block any seizure, the lawsuit said.
Names of the six agents who entered the house were obtained from the government in an earlier lawsuit. The new lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from the agents, whose names were filed under seal.
The suit is the sixth filed over the raid, including three by people at the house and three by a whistle-blowing immigration agent who claimed an anti-Cuban bias at the Miami office of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service. None have gone to trial.
A federal appeals court refused in June to allow the relatives to keep their lawsuit alive against former Attorney General Janet Reno, who ordered the raid.
Elián was hiding in a bedroom closet when a black-clad agent burst in and took the boy at gunpoint - a historic image captured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photo. The boy had survived a November 1999 shipwreck that killed his mother and others fleeing Cuba and had been turned over to his Miami relatives while his custody situation was resolved.
The raid took place after government officials said the family refused to return the boy to his father in Cuba.