Citizen Staff Writer
If a federal officer manhandles, handcuffs and arrests a woman way out in the desert, what’s a gal to do? Pay the small fine and slink away?
Not if you’re Kathryn Ferguson. Not if you’re one of those courageous activists who regularly put themselves in harm’s way to save lives.
Ferguson was headed to federal court Tuesday when the government dropped the misdemeanor charge of “creating a nuisance” that had been filed against her after a bizarre incident Jan. 11.
Although pleased by the dismissal, Ferguson still is appalled by the actions of federal officials on a roadside outside of Arivaca as well as the U.S. marshals who fingerprinted her in Tucson.
The well-known dance teacher has volunteered for five years with Samaritans, doling out water, food and medicine to save the lives of illegal immigrants – hundreds of whom die in our desert each year.
“Kathryn has more experience in the field for Samaritans than anyone else. Anyone,” says Bill Walker, the group’s pro bono lawyer. “She’s never had an altercation with any law enforcement officer of any type. There’s never been a complaint against her.”
So sitting in a Samaritans car Jan. 11 with another volunteer and that woman’s 12-year-old son, Ferguson didn’t worry when three men parked a truck behind them.
But the men, in plainclothes, soon demanded identification and explanations.
Ferguson said that when she asked for their names, agencies and badge numbers, a man later identified as Bob Ruiz of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, hit her in the chest, shoved her against the truck, handcuffed her and detained her for about 1 1/2 hours.
“She was traumatized by this,” says Walker, who has photographs of Ferguson’s bruises. “Every time we’d have to meet with her witness (pretrial), she’d be in tears by the time we were done. She was severely shaken.”
Ferguson says her fear kicked in after the incident in the desert, and she spent two weeks sleeping with every light on all night.
Even worse than that encounter, she says, was the rude and vulgar treatment she endured when sent to be fingerprinted by U.S. marshals, who screamed at her repeatedly and unexpectedly put her in a cell for 15 or 20 minutes.
Both instances surprised her.
Given the repeated instances of federal charges being filed against Samaritans and then dismissed, is a lawsuit or administrative complaint in order? Ferguson is considering such options.
Walker, meanwhile, says most Border Patrol and other federal agents are humane and “don’t have an ax to grind” with Samaritans.
The failure is the government’s lack of “any kind of policy recognizing we’re the good guys and we’re doing good work,” he notes.
The lawyer, like many others, is hoping that when a new federal administration takes over next year, whether Republican or Democratic, a sane policy toward humanitarians in the desert finally may be put in place.
Until then, people such as Ferguson will keep battling such challenges to their work.
It’s not Samaritans policy. But it’s clearly Samaritans principle.
Billie Stanton knows humanitarian aid is never a crime. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and 573-4664.