Matthew Bowen, 39, a suspended U.S. Border Patrol agent, is facing federal charges for allegedly hitting a migrant with his vehicle on purpose and then lying about the arrest in an official report.
Prosecutors have also revealed text messages Bowen exchanged with other border patrol agents that they say demonstrate a racist attitude toward immigrants. Court documents filed on April 4, 2019, list text messages, reportedly sent by Bowen, in which he refers to migrants as “disgusting,” “subhuman,” and “savages.”
The incident for which Bowen is facing charges occurred in early December of 2017. He was suspended after the charges were filed in May of 2018. His trial is scheduled to begin in August and Bowen has pleaded not guilty.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Prosecutors: Matthew Bowen Struck a Suspect Twice With His Vehicle as The Man Was Attempting to Run Away, Knocking Him to the Ground
Matthew Bowen and two other border patrol agents, identified in court documents as Matthew Jaseph and Khalil Garcia, responded to a call of an undocumented alien spotted crossing the border on December 3, 2017, at 7:30 a.m. The court document explaining the incident is embedded above; phone numbers and personal addresses have been blacked out.
Officers at the Nogales Port of Entry watching surveillance cameras noticed a man hopping a fence. Officers watched the man run toward an open parking lot near a border fence. The suspect was later identified as Antolin Rolando Lopez-Aguilar, a 23-year-old man from Guatemala.
The three agents responded to the scene in three separate cars. The court document explains that Jaseph arrived first and got out of his car to search for Lopez-Aguilar. Jaseph spotted him hiding under a semi-trailer and ordered him to surrender. Instead, Lopez-Aguilar tried to run back toward the fence. Bowen followed Lopez-Aguilar in his vehicle and struck him twice.
Bowen’s vehicle was referred to as “Subject Kilo Unit” in the affidavit. The document described the hit: “The first contact between Lopez-Aguilar and the Subject Kilo Unit occurred when Lopez-Aguilar reached back while running and used his hand to ‘push off’ of the hood of the Subject Kilo Unit, in an apparent effort to create space between himself and the front of the truck, which had come up quickly behind him. Less than two seconds later, BPA Bowen accelerated the Subject Kilo Unit directly into the back of Lopez-Aguilar’s body, knocking Lopez-Aguilar to the ground. The tires of the Subject Kilo Unit truck came to a full stop within inches of running Lopez- Aguilar over where he lay on the ground.”
Bowen got out of his car and put handcuffs on Lopez-Aguilar. Bowen handed the suspect over to Jaseph and Garcia and left the area. The other agents later told investigators that it was “unusual for BPA Bowen to leave the scene so quickly, and to leave his handcuffs behind.” Jaseph added that he had not seen Bowen strike Lopez-Aguilar with the vehicle.
The affidavit explains that Jaseph was also asked by his supervisors about what had occurred and told to write a memo. After doing so, Jaseph went to the radio room to watch the incident, which had been recorded on surveillance cameras. Jaseph observed Bowen strike Lopez-Aguilar with the vehicle and knock him to the ground. “BPA Jaseph said that he and other BPAs all go through CBP Use of Force training and that he never saw or heard anything on the ground or on the video that caused him to sense a threat from Lopez-Aguilar.”
Lopez-Aguilar suffered abrasions to his knees and right hand and was taken to a hospital in Nogales, Arizona. He later spent 30 days in federal prison for illegally crossing the border.
2. Court Document: Bowen Sent Text Messages Describing Migrants as ‘Subhuman’ & ‘Mindless Murdering Savages’
Matthew Bowen exchanged text messages with other border patrol agents in which he expressed frustration with illegal immigrants. His defense attorney, Sean Chapman, has argued to suppress the evidence collected during a search warrant of Bowen’s phone. Prosecutors are pushing to have specific messages shown to the jury that they say are evidence of Bowen’s mindset toward migrants. Court documents show that the judge decided to suppress all text messages sent or received before December 3, 2017, but will allow the jury to see messages sent on or after that date.
A list of text messages sent and received by Bowen was included in a court document filed on April 4, 2019. The document is embedded above; we have blacked out all of the phone numbers listed on it. In several messages, Bowen expressed anger over the investigation into what happened the day he arrested Antolin Rolando Lopez-Aguilar. Bowen wrote on December 7, 2017, “The tonk was not injured at all. he didnt want to go to the hospital but they made him. Its all gotten blown up bc I guess the port director was watching with their cameras.” The term “tonk” is reportedly an acronym for “temporarily outside native country,” according to the Arizona Daily Star, and used in a derogatory way to describe illegal immigrants crossing the border.
Bowen wrote a few days later that he “accidentally bumped him at like 7mph.” On December 18, 2017, Bowen received a text that read, “Did you gas hiscorpse or just use regular peanut oil while tazing?? For a frying effect.” Bowen responded, “Guats are best made crispy with an olive oil from their native pais.” Bowen wrote in another text, “If I had to tackle the tonk I would still be doing memos and sh*t. I wonder how they expect us to apprehend wild ass runners who don’t want to be apprehended?”
The court document includes text messages sent before the December 3 incident. Prosecutors found this text dated November 20, 2017: “mindless murdering savages. PLEASE let us take the gloves off trump! and we all just responded to code to 2 agents trying to catch 5 tonks at the fence in mariposa, tonks starting rocking caused one agent to fall and sustain a gash to his arm. disgusting subhuman sh*t unworthy of being kindling for a fire.”
On December 18, 2017, Bowen sent a message expressing dissasfaction with his job at the border patrol. “I’ve been kicking around the decision for years but after all this is cleared up I am resigning. There are opportunities to make more money than BP in real estate and other businesses. The wife made 3 times what I make this year. Plus im really tired of the mindless inefficiency of this job.” In March of 2018, he referred to working for the Border Patrol as a “dead-end job.”
Matthew Bowen’s attorney, Sean Chapman, has defended his client’s language and specifically the word “tonk.” He told the Washington Post that Border Patrol agents frequently used the word solely as an acronym and that it does not indicate racism.
3. Bowen Faces Two Federal Charges Related to the Use of Force Against the Suspect & For Allegedly Lying About the Arrest in an Official Report
Matthew Bowen is facing two federal charges: Deprivation of rights under color of law and falsification of records in a federal investigation. Prosecutors wrote in the indictment that Bowen had “assaulted” the suspect “through the use of a dangerous weapon” and caused bodily harm.
The Department of Justice summarizes the charge of Deprivation of rights under color of law on its website: “Section 242 of Title 18 makes it a crime for a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States. For the purpose of Section 242, acts under ‘color of law’ include acts not only done by federal, state, or local officials within the their lawful authority, but also acts done beyond the bounds of that official’s lawful authority, if the acts are done while the official is purporting to or pretending to act in the performance of his/her official duties.”
The indictment also states that Bowen intentionally lied in an official report. Prosecutors accuse Bowen of telling his supervisors that he had not been sure whether his vehicle had struck Antolin Rolando Lopez-Aguilar, and that he had never intended to hit him with the vehicle. He reportedly added that he had been unaware of how fast his vehicle could accelerate.
Bowen pleaded not guilty to both of the charges. His trial is slated to begin on August 13. Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson will preside.
4. Report: Bowen Has Been Accused of Using Excessive Force Multiple Times Since Joining the Border Patrol
Matthew Bowen has reportedly been known to use force often in his role as a border patrol agent. Prosecutors, cited by the Arizona Daily Star, listed several incidents dating back to 2012 that they planned to talk about at the trial should Bowen testify.
The incidents prosecutors mentioned in a court memo included a case from 2012 in which Bowen reportedly pulled a man out of his vehicle and tossed him onto the ground.
In March of 2015, prosecutors said Bowen tackled an illegal immigrant after the suspect had stopped running. His attorney says Bowen received a verbal reprimand at the time. In September of 2015, Bowen was accused by an anonymous agent of bragging about how aggressively he had arrested a juvenile migrant. That accusation of excessive force was never proven, says Bowen’s attorney.
5. Matthew Bowen Runs a Trucking Company With Two Other Agents, According to Court Documents
The court document listing text messages Matthew Bowen sent to other agents indicate that he was thinking about leaving the Border Patrol before charges were filed against him. He talked about taking classes to become a real estate agent. His attorney, Sean Chapman, also referred to a “trucking business that Mr. Bowen in fact started with two other agents.” In the document, Chapman was arguing that text messages related to these subjects were irrelevant to the case; the judge agreed.
Bowen is married with two children. According to the Washington Post, Bowen began working at the Border Patrol in 2008.