Unarmed 26-Year-Old Shot in Face by ICE Agent Will Likely Live With Bullet in Neck 'For the Rest of His Life'

A 26-year-old man who was shot in the face by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent during an operation to arrest his mother's partner, has been left with severe injuries and may have to live with a bullet in his neck for the rest of his life, his lawyers have said.

The update on Erick Diaz Cruz's condition came as his legal team filed a federal civil rights action against the officer who shot him.

Diaz Cruz, who is Mexican and lives in Martinez de la Torre, Veracruz, where he has worked for several years as an assistant to his town's mayor, had been visiting his mother, Carmen, in Brooklyn earlier this month when he awoke to sounds of a commotion out on the street, according to his lawyers.

He went outside to check on the situation and saw two men in plain clothes engaged in a confrontation with his mother's long-time partner, Gaspar Avendaño-Hernandez, they said.

"During the encounter, an ICE agent pulled out his gun and aimed it at Diaz Cruz," a statement sent on behalf of Diaz Cruz's legal team states. The 26-year-old, who was unarmed, covered his face with one hand just as the ICE officer fired the gun directly at his face, his lawyers state.

The bullet pierced the young man's hand and entered the left side of his face, fracturing multiple bones in his face before becoming lodged in his neck, his lawyers said.

Now, Diaz Cruz is recovering from acute fractures to bones across his face and hand, while the 26-year-old is also unable to move his left hand and arm and has vision loss in his left eye that doctors fear may be permanent. His lawyers said Diaz Cruz is likely to have to live with a bullet in his neck for the rest of his life.

In a statement, Diaz Cruz said the shooting was "not just an attack against me, but also an attack against the entire Latino community in the United States."

"This is the right time for our community to come together to protest against and protect ourselves from ICE's violence," he said.

Katie Rosenfeld, an attorney at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady representing Diaz Cruz said her office was "heartbroken and sickened by ICE's senseless and unjustified shooting of Erick."

A young, hard-working and law-abiding man was gunned down on the streets of Brooklyn in broad daylight in front of his family, shot in the face at point blank range, by an agent of the United States government," Rosenfeld said.

"Erick posed no threat to anyone, at any time. Erick's face is shattered, and he and his family are traumatized. We are a nation of laws, equality and justice; Erick's case demands that we live up to those values."

It is unclear how Diaz Cruz's injuries will impact his ability to return to his work as presiding assistant for his town's mayor, with the 26-year-old also being in charge of keeping records of municipal contracts.

Family members of Eric Diaz-Cruz, joined by immigration activists, hold a vigil for Eric, who was shot in the face by an ICE agent after intervening in the arrest for deportation of his mother's boyfriend, February 16, 2020 in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. They visited the home where Eric was shot and where he is recovering from his wounds. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty

Diaz Cruz had come to the U.S. after obtaining the essential tourist visas and he had been particularly excited to visit his family on this trip because he would be introducing his girlfriend, who he lives with in Martinez de la Torre, to his family for the first time.

The shooting came just weeks before the Trump administration announced that it would be deploying tactical law enforcement officers to sanctuary cities across the country, including New York, where the incident unfolded, prompting outcry from immigration advocates.

"What happened to Erick and this family is horrific. We stand with the Diaz Cruz family in demanding justice following the shooting," said Jackie Pearce, a Raids Response attorney with Make the Road New York, which is representing Avendaño-Hernandez.

"We also call for the immediate release of Mr. Avendaño from ICE custody and a full and impartial investigation by New York authorities so that this family and others terrorized by unlawful actions can get the truth. We hope that this lawsuit helps to shed much-needed light on this tragedy," Pearce said.