By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) - A U.S. Border Patrol agent had called migrants "subhuman" and "savages" in text messages weeks before he knocked over a migrant with a pickup truck, according to federal court documents.
Agent Matthew Bowen sent the messages in November 2017, two weeks before he is accused of deliberately knocking over a Guatemalan man with his Border Patrol vehicle in Nogales, Arizona, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson.
Prosecutors Monica Ryan and Lori Price filed the documents on April 30 with a request to use the messages in court to show Bowen's "state of mind" prior to the incident and his "willful" intent to knock over the migrant on Dec. 3, 2017. They said the messages showed Bowen's "great disdain for the aliens" and "dissatisfaction with restrictions Border Patrol placed on its agents in how they could apprehend aliens."
Defense lawyer Sean Chapman, in a May 10 response to block release of the messages, said the case turned on whether Bowen, by using his truck to stop the fleeing individual, used excessive force.
"Text messages using such language is not admissible because Mr. Bowen's alleged 'disdain' for aliens is not relevant to the issues before the jury," Chapman wrote.
The court has yet to decide whether the text messages will be made available to the jury.
The case comes at a time when the Border Patrol has been overwhelmed by a surge in migrants from Guatemala and other Central American countries.
Human rights groups regularly accuse Border Patrol of mistreating migrants. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost on May 8 said assaults of her agents were up 20 percent. A Guatemalan woman faces felony assault charges for biting a Tucson agent during her arrest on Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection tweeted.
A federal grand jury indicted Bowen on May 30, 2018, on charges of denying the Guatemalan man his civil rights and filing a false report, court records show.
The Border Patrol in Tucson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bowen bumped the migrant, identified as Antolin Lopez Aguilar, 23, causing him to fall as he ran from agents, according to an affidavit by a Department of Homeland Security official. Lopez, who had earlier jumped a border fence, suffered abrasions to his right hand and knees and was arrested, the affidavit said.
In a statement, Tucson Sector Border Patrol said agents were "held to the highest standards, and any action or misconduct within our ranks will not be tolerated."
A jury trial in the case is scheduled to begin on Aug. 13.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)