Expat finally compensated for illegal, abusive arrest

A long-time U.S. expat suffered injuries in what a court called an abusive and disproportionate arrest based on a mystery warrant.

A court said the action by immigration police was illegal and so was the 16 days the expat spent in the agency’s lockup.

So far the police action has cost the state $48,000 in damages, and the expat is seeking a lot more.

The case is complex and began in 2010 with complaints directed at the expat, Steven A. Bucelato of Esterillos Oeste on the central Pacific coast. In March the next year, he was denied permission to renew his permanent residency cédula.  During the same period, he was in court multiple times fighting a local developer.

He was not prepared for a visit Aug. 14, 2012, by a couple who said they were seeking to rent cabinas that he did not have. That was a ploy to lure him into the street in front of his home. The Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo said in a Feb. 2, 2013, ruling that he was detained by the pair and three more immigration officers who pulled up in an unmarked vehicle.

The court relied on testimony by neighbors and even some of the immigration officials themselves to decide that Bucelato did not offer resistance. Still he was grabbed by his arms and thrown to the ground, and one placed the muzzle of a pistol to his head.

What followed were 16 days in the La Uruca immigration lockup.

The following Sept. 6, the Dirección General de Migración determined that the resolution to detain the expat was void. The court ordered the immigration agency to investigate just how the illegal arrest had been ordered.

Bucelato said he and his lawyer have been unable to find out who issued the document and why.

As a result of the arrest, the expat suffered damage to his arm and was awarded the equivalent of seven days pay by the court.

Bucelato said his case was helped by neighbors who came forward. In several points of testimony the court accepted the word of neighbors instead of the word of the immigration agents. The court said the immigration agents gave contradictory testimonies.

One woman told the court she thought the expat was being kidnapped because the five agents wore no uniforms and their vehicle had no markings. Two of the agents later faced criminal action for the arrest.

Repeatedly the court termed the arrest illegal and said it involved abusive and disproportionate force. The court in its detailed 44-page decision said that Bucelato was unlikely to challenge five agents.

Bucelato’s case also was helped because neighbors testified of his efforts to improve the community by building a police station and putting gravel on some roads. He also sought to protect the environment.

The government of Costa Rica appealed the 2013 decision, but lost. A decision issued last Dec. 2 ordered the payment of 12 million colons to both Bucelato and his lawyer, Alfonso José Jiménez Meza. The court also called a hearing for March 15 where payment for more damages will be discussed.

Bucelato said he believes that a personal enemy managed to throw out his long-held permanent residency and also create the paperwork that led to his detention. Such actions would require confederates in the immigration agency.

The expat said the woman who processed the arrest order told the court she found the paperwork laying on her desk.

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