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Friday September 29, 2000

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Elian's Miami family sues Reno, INS

By The Associated Press

MIAMI - Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives filed a lawsuit yesterday against Attorney General Janet Reno, alleging the armed raid that took the Cuban boy from their home and reunited him with his father was illegal.

"The last time I saw anything like that was in films from postwar Germany when the Nazis were invading people's homes without cause," said the family's lawyer, Ron Guralnick.

The lawsuit filed in federal court claims Reno and the Immigration and Naturalization Service used false statements to obtain the arrest and search warrants used in the pre-dawn April 22 raid to seize the 6-year-old boy.

The Justice Department defended the decisions made by its leaders as appropriate under the circumstances.

"Unfortunately, the Gonzalez family's refusal to comply with a lawful federal order and their statements that they would never give up the child except by force compelled us to take enforcement actions," Justice Department spokeswoman Carole Florman said. "We still believe our actions were appropriate and lawful."

The INS has yet to see the lawsuit and will review it with the Justice Department once it does, spokeswoman Maria Cardona said yesterday.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez; his great-aunt, Angela; and their daughter, Marisleysis, Elian's second-cousin. They had cared for Elian since November 1999, when the boy survived a boat crossing from Cuba that killed his mother and 10 other people. The family then sought custody of Elian to raise him in the United States.

Their lawsuit claims the raid violated the family's rights of expression and assembly, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and freedom from the use of excessive force without due process of law.

The raid also was illegal, the lawsuit claims, because it acted against an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling preventing any party from taking Elian back to Cuba.

After the raid, the Justice Department reunited Elian with his father in the Washington area. Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian, his half-brother, and stepmother lived in the United States for several weeks under the court's order.

After the Miami relatives exhausted all appeals to seek asylum for the boy, the court's ruling expired and Elian returned to Cuba on June 28. He started the second grade this month.

The lawsuit asks for unspecified compensatory damages for mental distress, physical injury, and property damage, in addition to punitive damages.

The lawsuit also names INS director Doris Meissner, deputy attorney general Eric Holder, and INS agent Betty Mills as defendants. Mills took Elian out of the house and carried him into a waiting van.

Other defendants are the city of Miami, former Miami police chief William O'Brien and INS agents that took part in the raid.