3 deputies denounced in handling of a corpse

Associated Press Sept. 15, 2002

TUCSON - A human rights group denounced three Cochise County sheriff's deputies for driving several miles with the decomposed body of a suspected illegal immigrant strapped to the hood of an SUV.

The Coalicion de Derechos Humanos said the three deputies, who were suspended without pay Thursday, showed no regard for the woman, identified as Janet Mata Mendez, 24, of Veracruz, Mexico. She died of natural causes linked to exposure, officials said.

"If we are to begin healing our ravaged communities and neighborhoods, we must immediately remove any and all components that foster this cycle of pain and disregard for life," the group said in a written statement.

Chief Deputy Lance Crosthwait said driving with the woman's body on the hood was an "outrageously foolish decision."

U.S. Border Patrol agents discovered the woman's body Thursday in a remote area east of Bisbee. Deputies placed the woman in a body bag. After carrying her to the SUV they placed her on the hood, intending to go a short distance.

The back of the SUV was full of equipment, and Crosthwait said deputies couldn't fit her inside.

A local funeral parlor vehicle was supposed to meet the deputies to take the body, but after waiting for more than an hour, deputies decided to drive to the Sheriff's Office station in Bisbee, about seven miles from where the woman was found, with the woman strapped to the SUV.

Crosthwait said the three deputies, whose names were withheld, expressed condolences and apologies to the family and Mexican consul.

In Los Angeles on Saturday, actor Edward James Olmos joined other activists Saturday to call for ways to stop the death of hundreds of illegal border-crossers from exposure and other dangers.

"These people are dying, and we're watching it happen," the Mexican-American actor said at a rally. "We have to do something about it."