Share this article

print logo

INCIDENT AT BRIDGE DRAWS ATTENTION
WOMAN'S INJURY NOW AN INTERNATIONAL ISSUE

The alleged beating of a Chinese businesswoman by a Customs and Border Protection officer at the Rainbow Bridge last week has turned into an international issue.

The attack against Zhao Yan, a 37-year-old woman visiting the Falls on a business trip to the United States, left her with both eyes nearly swollen shut and the officer, Robert Rhodes, 43, of Niagara Falls, facing a serious criminal charge.

But the incident, which occurred at about 11:15 p.m. last Wednesday night, also has led to these developments:

* Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing have discussed the incident, with the Chinese official demanding an investigation and the State Department later vowing to conduct a thorough probe.

* Zhao's attorney has vowed to file a lawsuit seeking at least $5 million in the incident, which the attorney called an assault on an innocent civilian.

* The incident at the Rainbow Bridge also has led to headlines in at least several newspapers in China, with the victim calling the United States a "barbarous" and "brutal" place.

"I felt deeply humiliated," Zhao told the South China Morning Post. "I have been to many countries, but the U.S. is the most brutal place."

The China Daily showed a photo of Zhao's bruise-covered face. And the People's Daily quoted her as saying that she's been to many nations for business reasons, "and the United States is the most barbarous."

Rhodes was accused of using excessive physical force and pepper spray to subdue Zhao. The officer apparently thought -- mistakenly -- that she was one of three women accompanying a drug suspect at the pedestrian checkpoint on the bridge.

Law-enforcement officials said Rhodes was suspended from his job, before being charged with a federal civil-rights violation involving bodily harm. The charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Rhodes was released on a $50,000 signature bond and ordered to appear again before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott on Sept. 20.

"We take this matter very seriously," U.S. Attorney Michael A. Battle said Tuesday. "It's the responsibility of our office to investigate cases of alleged civil-rights violations."

The incident started when a male pedestrian had cleared customs at the bridge, before he was found carrying several pounds of marijuana.

According to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court by the Department of Homeland Security, Rhodes hit the "duress" button and called for assistance. He later told superiors he asked the three women to come inside the inspection station, but instead they started to run. He then grabbed the nearest woman, Zhao.

Rhodes told officials that the woman tried to pull away from him and swung her arms at him, before he sprayed her with pepper spray.

Other officers, however, have claimed that Rhodes also threw Zhao into a wall, grabbed her hair, kneed her in the head and struck her head on the ground, according to the affidavit.

In his affidavit, Senior Special Agent Steven MacMartin of the Department of Homeland Security stated that the Chinese woman suffered swollen eyes, bruises around the eyes and a contusion on her forehead.

Zhao has claimed that her two friends fled immediately when officers first approached them, but she felt she had done nothing wrong, so she stayed put.

"Whenever I hear a man speaking English or see one wearing a U.S. police uniform, it makes me cringe," Zhao told the South China Morning Post. "The assault not only physically harmed me, but also left me with mental trauma."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment