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SAN JOSE � In a case that challenges law enforcement officers’ qualified immunity privilege, a unanimous Ninth Circuit panel ruled Friday that federal agents went too far when they allegedly handcuffed and pointed their guns on a barefoot, unarmed 11-year-old boy. Ephraim Tekle had been taking out the trash on March 23, 1998, when he surprised a gang of IRS agent who’d come to the family’s home to arrest Tekle’s parents on suspicion of drug trafficking and tax-related crimes. Agents told the 11-year-old Tekle to get on the ground. They pointed a gun to his head as an agent searched his body and handcuffed him, according to the plaintiffs. About 15 or 20 agents kept their guns pointed at the child while his father, Solomon, was arrested, according to the plaintiffs. When the boy finally asked for his shoes, an agent threw them on the ground and spat on them. Tekle, through his mother Lily, filed a complaint, claiming the agents violated his constitutional rights. He was seeking declaratory relief and damages. But a U.S. district judge tossed the complaint on a summary judgment motion, stating the IRS agents were protected from prosecution under qualified immunity. The Ninth Circuit panel disagreed. “Here, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Tekle, approximately 23 armed officers saw a barefoot 11-year-old boy, clad in shorts and a T-shirt, emerge from his home,” Ninth Circuit Senior Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote in the opinion, adding that the boy was unarmed and did not resist the authorities. “A reasonable agent confronted with these circumstances should have known that there was no need to use guns and handcuffs,” the judge continued. Judges Raymond Fisher and Andrew Kleinfeld concurred, remanding the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. At one point during the incident, Tekle asked to use the restroom. An agent followed Tekle to the restroom, kept his hand on the gun pointed to the child’s head and refused to let him shut the door, according to the plaintiffs. Another agent asked Tekle where he was from. When Tekle responded that he was born in the U.S. but his parents were born in Ethiopia, the agent, according to plaintiffs, replied: “Ethiopia is an f’n ugly country, and there is nothing to see there.” Tekle was represented by A. Clifton Hodges of Hodges and Associates. The IRS agents were represented by Frank Travieso, an assistant U.S. attorney, according to the ruling. “I thought it was spot on,” Hodges said. “They basically took everything we asked them to do and did it.” Hodges said he was surprised it took the judges so long to issue an opinion. The case was argued last October. “It was clear after the oral argument what they were likely to do with the case,” he said. Now 19, Tekle lives with his mother in Southern California and can’t hold a stable job, according to his attorney, who said after the incident Tekle had trouble sleeping and did poorly in school. His mother served six months for signing fraudulent tax returns. His father is still in prison. Travieso could not be reached by press time.

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