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Woman Says She Feared For Her Life in Videotaped Beating

April 4, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Alicia Sotero Vazquez crossed the border from Mexico so her children could have a better life, she said from a hospital bed. After sheriff’s deputies clubbed her, she feared for her own.

``I just prayed to God to help me, because I have kids, and my family,″ Sotero said Wednesday in a tearful interview with TV station KMEX.

Sotero, 32, and Enrique Funes Flores were beaten Monday by two sheriff’s deputies after a high-speed chase in a pickup crammed with other Mexicans suspected of sneaking across the border.

News helicopters videotaped the chase and beating, and the footage was played repeatedly in the United States and Mexico.

Riverside County Sheriff Larry Smith condemned the beatings Wednesday, calling them a shocking use of excessive force.

Sotero had worked in a now-closed clothing factory in Mexico to support her daughter, 11, and son, 9. She then worked odd jobs but couldn’t make enough money, she said.

``I’m really poor, and that’s why I decided to come over here, to get my kids an education because I never had one. I only finished second grade,″ she said.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she spoke from her bed at an undisclosed hospital where she was treated for dehydration and bruises.

``They hit me worse than an animal,″ she said. ``I just wish they are punished because I didn’t do anything bad.″

Deputies Tracy Watson and Kurtis Franklin were both suspended with pay. Franklin has been with the department for 20 years, Watson for five.

Sotero was shoved face-first into the hood of the truck, grabbed by the hair and pulled to the ground, then clubbed repeatedly.

The deputies ``used vicious, hateful words,″ she said in today’s Los Angeles Times. ``I don’t speak English, but I could feel their hate.″

Eighteen men in the truck who were detained after the chase, all identified as illegal immigrants from Mexico, were released Wednesday from a federal detention center in Los Angeles. They will be given ``voluntary departure″ status, which allows them to remain in the country for six months.

Funes, who had been in the back of the truck, is Sotero’s boyfriend. He was jailed briefly, then released Tuesday after officials determined he was not the driver.

Sotero’s lawyer, David Ross, said Wednesday that he has received eight to 10 threats since taking the case.

``I got a couple of really sinister messages, with violence intended,″ he told The Associated Press. He has increased security at his law office.

The Riverside County sheriff’s department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the FBI are investigating the beatings.

``There will be no cover-up,″ Smith said. ``No one is above the law.″

Update hourly