The family of a teenage boy whose death ProPublica investigated has objected to the publication of a surveillance video that documented his last hours.
Yesterday, ProPublica published a detailed account of failings and missteps by the U.S. Border Patrol, in whose custody 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died. As part of the story, ProPublica published several moments from a lengthy surveillance video in which Carlos struggles on the floor of his cell and then stops moving. The video, which had not been shared with Congress or the public, contradicts the government’s claim that Carlos was discovered as a result of a “welfare check.’’ It shows that his cellmate awoke, saw his motionless body, and summoned Border Patrol agents.
Carlos’ family issued a statement today saying they had not seen the video in advance and that its publication has traumatized them:
It’s been really painful for our family to lose Carlos. We thought that not knowing what happened to him in that cell, whether he was all alone when he died, whether it was preventable, that we don’t know if we can hold the people responsible accountable— that that was the worst grief we could have, but having all these people watching him die on the internet is something we couldn’t have imagined in a movie or a nightmare.
The statement was issued by the Texas Civil Rights Project, whose lawyers represent the family. The group noted that it, too, had initially shared the video but said it stopped doing so after learning that the family did not approve of its distribution.The lawyers urged others “not publish further information without the consent of the family.”
After learning of the family’s objections, ProPublica’s Editor-in-Chief Stephen Engelberg apologized for the pain caused by the release of the video.
We are very sorry to see the statement from the family of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez regarding our handling of the video of the circumstances surrounding his death. Before publication, we discussed the video with Carlos’ father and a close family member, describing the contents in detail and why we thought it was important to publish it. The family member asked us to limit the graphic content that was shown, and we made excisions based on his concerns. We apologize to the family for the pain the release of the video has caused them.
We continue, however, to believe that the American people need to see this video in order to understand the actions of their government and what really happened to Carlos.
Questions were also raised about whether the edited video was shown in advance to the family. ProPublica did not do so in this case because it does not typically disclose stories in advance of publication. “It was a judgment call,” Engelberg said, “the ethical questions surrounding this issue are complex.”