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On Thursday, a spokesman for the family of Lázaro González said the family
was sticking to its version, told by Marisleysis González, that the agents
yelled and told them,
"Give us the f------ kid!" and also threatened to shoot.
Zumbado supports their claim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBC cameraman says INS agents on Elian raid were physically and verbally abusive

By LUISA YANEZ Sun-Sentinel
Web-posted: 1:33 a.m. June 9, 2000

MIAMI --
The federal agents who carried out the Elián González raid said they
were the picture of professionalism, according to an internal Department of
Justice report released this week.

   
They uttered no foul words. Used no physical force. Shoved no guns in
anyone's face. Used no tear gas. They went in, grabbed the boy and rushed out.
Mission accomplished, the report states.

   
But this week, one witness who was inside the house and says he has no stake
in the outcome of the Elián case is challenging the veracity of the government's
51-page report on the controversial raid.
   "It's a pack of lies;
a whitewash," said Tony Zumbado, 45, of Miami, the
freelance NBC cameraman who ran inside the Little Havana house steps ahead of
federal agents who stormed in at 5:15 a.m. April 22.
    "To read the report, you would think this was the most perfect, uneventful
mission they ever carried out," said Zumbado, a veteran who has been on numerous
police SWAT-team missions.
   Zumbado said the agents did everything they said they didn't do in their
report.
   "The agents were physically and verbally abusive; they said every bad word in
the book and kept me from doing my job," said Zumbado, who had become so tied to
the story that other reporters had dubbed him "the Mayor of Camp Elián," at the
media tent set up across the street from the home of Elián's Miami relatives.
   Others, including the boy's Miami family, attorneys and supporters who were
at the house, have given a version similar to Zumbado's, but they were players
in the drama. Zumbado was not.
    Kendall Coffey, the lead attorney in the Miami family's effort to keep
Elián, said he too was "astounded" at the report's claims, specifically that no
pepper or tear gas was used. "I felt the fumes myself," said Coffey, who was in
the back of the house negotiating by telephone with U.S. Attorney General Janet
Reno. Coffey said he did not witness what happened to Zumbado.
    Also supporting Zumbado's version is Donato Dalrymple, who ran with the boy
to a back bedroom. Dalrymple filed an affidavit with the federal court in
Atlanta giving his version of the agents' actions.

   
But immigration officials continue to defend accounts of their actions that
night and said their final report is accurate.

    However, they said they had launched an internal audit into NBC's complaint
about the treatment given Zumbado and his sound man, who was struck with the
barrel of a federal agent's gun outside the house.
  
"Our indications are that no profanity was used, no one was knocked to the
ground or held forceably at gunpoint during the raid," said Maria Cardona,
spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

   
At first, Zumbado said he didn't plan to speak out about the raid. He gave
his account that day, but has kept quiet since.
   Zumbado said he understood the rough behavior of the agents, who were on a
military-style mission. But he said he found insulting the sanitized version of
the agents' behavior in the report.
   The father of three said he had no ax to grind. He thinks Elián should be
with his father, but in a free country.
   "But when I read how the agents exonerated themselves of any wrongdoing, my
faith in this administration was shaken," said Zumbado, who is Cuba-born but
considers himself not a Cuban-American but an American.
   He is also upset that as a journalist, federal agents prevented him from
doing his job, and made him miss capturing a story he followed for almost six
months.
   "If this had happened to an American journalist in Cuba or Colombia, the U.S.
government would have filed a complaint. In this case, you get this report," he
said.

    Seven weeks after the raid, the mission is still causing a stir. In Miami,
the police department took offense over
an INS memo that painted some officers
as untrustworthy, saying federal agents feared police would work against them to
help Cuban exiles who wanted to keep the boy in Miami.

    INS Director Robert Wallis on Thursday apologized to the department.
   Also on Thursday, a Senate committee questioning the raid subpoenaed Reno's
records.
Zumbado would like the committee to hear his side of what happened.
    The night of the raid, he said he jumped a fence and dashed to get inside
the Miami relatives' home. Steps ahead of the agents, Zumbado said one agent
grabbed his camera cord and tried to push him backward. He still managed to get
inside the house and someone closed the door. The report says someone put a
couch across the front door. Agents used a battering ram to get in.
    Once inside, Zumbado said agents knocked him to the floor and kicked him in
the lower back. He said his camera was slammed down on his stomach and he was
held at gunpoint on the floor, prevented from filming the taking of the
6-year-old.
    "I was left winded and in pain," Zumbado said. His account differs
completely from that of the agents who took part in the raid.
    Zumbado and Associated Press photographer Alan Diaz, 52, were the only
members of the media who made it inside the house before the raid, the
government report said.
    Diaz ran into a bedroom where Dalrymple had taken Elián, cowering in front
of a closet. He captured a graphic photograph of the moment. But Zumbado was
held by the front door.
   Reached Thursday, Diaz said he did not want to discuss the raid. He said
Zumbado had not been within his view.

  
According to the government's report, "The video cameraman inside the
Gonzalez home was not touched in any way by the entry team. Contact with him was
limited to one team member, who gave him a verbal command to remain seated as
the team passed by the chair where the cameraman was seated."
    Several agents complained that they tripped over his cable, which extended
to the outside of the house.
    One agent, who said he spoke to the cameraman, gave this account: "As I
passed through the living room, I saw a chair to my immediate right with a man
attempting to get up. As he was getting up, he had his hands on a shoebox-sized
item on the floor in my path. I told the man in a loud voice, 'Police! Stay
down.' "
   The agent admitted he stepped on Zumbado's camera, but by accident. "The size
of the item I stepped on would be consistent with the size of a video camera,"
the report said. "I did not want the person seated in the chair to get up and I
did not want him to have anything in his hands. I did not recognize the box as a
video camera. I did not see any other team members have contact with him."
   Zumbado laughed at the account. "They must have gone in there blind."
  
On Thursday, a spokesman for the family of Lázaro González said the family
was sticking to its version, told by Marisleysis González, that the agents
yelled and told them, "Give us the f------ kid!" and also threatened to shoot.
Zumbado supports their claim.

   Staff Writer David Cazares contributed to this report.
    Luisa Yanez can be reached at lyanez@sun-sentinel.com or at 954-385-7920.

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