Chinese woman awarded $461K in damages in 2004 beating in US

By Hong Xiao in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-08-11 12:22

A Chinese woman beaten by a US border agent in 2004 has been awarded close to $500,000 in damages by a US court.

Zhao Yan, a Tianjin business owner, was awarded $461,152 on Monday in a non-jury trial in the District Court for the Western District of New York in Rochester.

In August 2004, Zhao was pepper-sprayed and beaten by US Customs and Border Patrol Officer Robert Rhodes, who mistakenly believed that Zhao was a drug smuggler during her visit to Niagara Falls, New York, on the US-Canadian border.

District Judge Elizabeth Wolford ruled in Zhao's favor in the civil case after concluding Rhodes had acted wrongly in the "assault and battery and false arrest" of Zhao, who was 38 at the time.

Zhao was entitled to recover $64,313.18 in medical expenses, $1,838.91 in lost earnings, $260,000 in past pain and suffering, $125,000 in future pain and suffering and $10,000 for false arrest, said the ruling.

Zhao, a gym-equipment saleswoman and piano teacher, told authorities that she was assaulted by Rhodes when she and two friends were crossing the Rainbow Bridge near a US Customs checkpoint.

Rhodes reportedly said he believed Zhao was with a man from whom officers had just confiscated marijuana.

Rhodes said in a statement that he grabbed Zhao, and two others ran away when he asked them to come to an inspection station. He said he used pepper spray on her when she swung her arms at him.

Rhodes, then 43, was accused of throwing Zhao against a wall, kneeing her in the head and striking her head on the ground.

Zhao claimed that she was assaulted by Rhodes even after she showed her business visa. Zhao had been in the US to study the market for wood in Pennsylvania, court documents show. She was sightseeing at Niagara Falls when the confrontation occurred.

Zhao said she has suffered severe headaches and back pain as well as mental trauma from the beating.

"This incident harmed almost all aspects of my life," Zhao said in a court filing.

"I have been to many countries in the past for business purposes, and the United States is the most barbarous."

Her case drew widespread criticism in China at the time.

Then-Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing called his US counterpart Colin Powell about the incident and urged the US to conduct a thorough investigation and bring those responsible to justice.

During the trial, US authorities said that Zhao's injuries were her own fault because she had run from Rhodes and then kicked, punched and scratched him before other officers could arrive.

Zhao argued that she ran because the officers had frightened her, after ordering her to come inside an inspection station, mistaking her for a drug smuggler.

Rhodes was initially fired and criminally charged with violating Zhao's civil rights.

In September 2005, the jury reached a unanimous verdict of not guilty, and Rhodes was given his job back.

Xinhua and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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