Friday, June 01, 2007

Hate crime hoax: Man who claimed he was taken in handcuffs to Mexico admits that he lied

Mark Petix:

A day laborer who claimed he and two other men were kidnapped from a street corner and taken in handcuffs to Tijuana has admitted he made the story up.

When San Bernardino County sheriff's investigators talked to Jose Feliz Gutierrez by phone, he said the kidnapping story he told to his sister was a lie.

"Jose stated he had left on his own accord," said Detective Jesse Venegas in a statement released Wednesday. "The entire event was a fabrication.

"Jose stated that he was scared to stand at the corner and look for work because of recent events such as the tragic accident that took the life of a fellow day laborer."

Jose Fernando Pedraza was killed May 5 when a car lost control and crashed into him at a spot where laborers gather at Grove Avenue and Arrow Route.

The kidnapping claim added fuel to an already fiery debate over day laborers and immigration that led to strong demands from people on both sides of the immigration issue.

Two immigration rights groups called for an investigation after Gutierrez's sister said her brother had called her from Mexico and said he had been kidnapped.

On May 15, Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Labor Center in Los Angeles, called it a pressing criminal matter.

"This is something I intend to follow to the end," he said then.

Emotions ran high the next day when members of the Minuteman Project, who have been rallying at the labor site, told the Rancho Cucamonga City Council the city should cite motorists who pick up workers.

One woman aligned with the Minuteman group angrily approached the dais without permission.

The next day, Councilman Rex Gutierrez expressed his disdain with the group.

"Last night, we saw the true face of the Minutemen, which is spiteful and hateful."

Minuteman national rally spokesman Raymond Herrera said the group had serious doubts about the kidnapping claim from the start.

He said the group believed the story was a lie.

"The Minuteman group knew that from the start," he said. "It just didn't add up."

The news that the kidnapping story was a lie is regrettable, said Jose Calderon, professor of sociology and Chicano studies at Pitzer College.

He is also president of the Latina and Latino Roundtable, which joined the National Day Labor Center in calling for an investigation.

He calls the kidnapping tale an unfortunate distraction from the real issues, but said there had to be an investigation.

"We have to be responsible to the community," he said, "and when such reports are made we can't hold back."

He said some good has come out of this. He believes laborers are more willing to write down the license plate numbers of cars picking up workers to further protect their safety.

"So we have to be very vigilant," he said.

Venegas said no other alleged kidnapping victims have come forward.

"Investigators were able to determine Jose (Gutierrez) had been under psychiatric counseling and medication while in Mexico," he said.

Mexican Admits Hate Crime Hoax


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