By CATHERINE WILSON
Posted January 26 2005, 1:55 PM EST
MIAMI—A former Cuban doctor who lived next door to Elian Gonzalez’s Miami relatives testified Wednesday that his family turned to the refrigerator for fresh air after tear gas filled their neighborhood during the armed federal raid to return the Cuban boy to his father.
Cristobal Peraza’s wife, mother-in-law and a house guest are among 13 people suing the federal government for injuries and emotional distress that they blame on biased agents bearing shotguns and gas guns in the pre-dawn raid in April 2000.
Nine people in neighboring homes and four women at police barricades are seeking up to $250,000 each in the non-jury trial expected to finish Friday before U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore. He has given no indication when he would announce his verdict.
Peraza testified through a Spanish translator that a black-clad agent gassed the three women ahead of him on the path between their kitchen door and their sidewalk, and all of them headed back inside.
``Inside my house, you could hardly breathe practically,’’ he said. ``We had to take refuge in the air coming from the refrigerator.’‘
The neighbors have testified that the agents did not identify themselves or warn the bystanders before spraying the tear gas.
More than 90 other people were dropped earlier from the suit claiming the 151-agent raid team used excessive force in the three-mintue raid. 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.