Daniel Adrian Barajas’ family would have celebrated Daniel Adrian Barajas’ 40th birthday on Thursday. Instead, they filed a lawsuit for wrongful death against local officials in Arkansas Saline County.
The federal lawsuit is part and parcel of the family’s ongoing concerns about an encounter Daniel had before he died after being struck by three vehicles including a semi truck on an Arkansas highway in January 2022.
In a joint interview with NBC News on Thursday morning, Daniel’s two sisters, Xexilia Barajas and Raquel, said: “We want answers, and we want closure.” “We miss his so much.”
Mike Laux is a national civil right attorney who represents the Barajas Family. He filed a federal lawsuit against Saline County Sheriff’s Deputies, who had interacted with Daniel before his death. The suit also included officials from the Saline County Coroner’s Office, who investigated the case.
The lawsuit for wrongful death — alleging excessive force, violation of due process, and racial profile — was filed in New Mexico on Thursday afternoon at a district judge in the state where Daniel lived.
Daniel, a welder with a speciality who often traveled across the country to find work, was driving to Texas after completing a job in West Virginia to see his sisters. Each of them had just given birth.
The sisters said that he was eager to see his new nieces and nephews. Daniel drove through Kentucky to Arkansas.
Daniel was asleep in his car parked on an on-ramp when Saline County Sheriff’s Deputies woke him up at 4:35 am, according to the deputies’ report cited in this lawsuit.
According to the deputies’ report cited in this lawsuit, they questioned Daniel and claimed he appeared disoriented. Deputies used a K9 unit and emergency medical personnel in order to inspect Daniel.
According to the lawsuit, the background check and search by the K9 unit did not reveal anything. Daniel was cleared medically by EMTs.
Daniel was not allowed to return to his vehicle to continue his journey to Texas, according to the lawsuit. Deputies instead took his car keys.
Daniel’s wallet, phone and metal cashbox, which he kept inside his car to do work, also disappeared the day he was killed, a lawsuit filed by the Barajas Sisters and other witnesses stated.
Racial profiling: a concern
LULAC, the nation’s oldest Latino civil rights organization, believes Daniel’s case connects to the larger issue of racial profiling which has led to deadly traffic stops largely impacting drivers of color.
The lawsuit claims that deputies used excessive force on Daniel. This left him “physically injured, dazed, and/or confused”, eventually causing “him to become disoriented and stumble onto I-30”, the highway where he died.
According to the lawsuit, deputies claimed that they did not wear body cameras or dashboard cameras in their vehicles.
The Saline County Sheriff’s Office has not responded to a comment request.
Laux noted that it is important to remember that the reports of deputies detailing their encounters with Daniel were written after his death.
The Arkansas Department of Public Safety reports that Daniel, who was walking into the I-30 highway around 6 a.m. on January 15, 2022 was struck by two cars as well as a semi truck. He was declared dead at the scene by the Saline County Coroner. It was raining and the road was slick when the fatal accident occurred.
According to the Arkansas Department of Public Safety, the Arkansas State Police responded and Daniel’s corpse was transported to the Saline County Coroner’s Office.
A Texas law enforcement agent knocked at the door of Xexilia’s Dallas home after the fatal accident. She said that the officer gave her his condolences, told her Daniel died and informed her that officials from Arkansas were going to call her later with details about what happened.
Xexilia received a phone call from the Saline County Sheriff’s Office. During the call, the deputy told Xexilia that they believed Daniel was a “drug runner”.
Xexilia said that the accusation was so absurd she “felt this brain fog where I could not even think.”
Why was he branded as a drug dealer? Domingo Garcia told NBC News that he was just a welder who wanted to visit his sisters and see their newborn babies. “Unfortunately, this story is repeated all over the country.”
In dozens of different studies, it has been found repeatedly that Latino drivers and other drivers of colour are stopped disproportionately, searched and arrested, and in extreme cases even killed. Garcia stated that in many cases, police officers who racially profile Latino drivers violate their civil rights repeatedly.
The sisters and their brothers said that they and their family were “drug-free” and had never had any contact with the police.
Daniel was remembered as someone who went the extra mile for his family and others around him. He drove hours to Raquel’s house to assist her with moving while she was expecting, or donated clothing to the homeless in Albuquerque where he lived.
LULAC has now called on the Justice Department for an investigation to determine if there is a pattern at a national level and to “defund any law enforcement agencies that are found to be violating the civil rights Latinos or African Americans”, Garcia added.
The missing evidence
According to the lawsuit, Xexilia contacted a coroner’s department a few days after Daniel died, asking for an autopsy as well as obtaining a toxicology test on Daniel’s corpse. However, the coroner declined.
The coroner signed the official death certificate of Daniel a week after his death. According to the lawsuit filed by Daniel’s family, it determined that his death was a suicide. His cause of death was “multiple system blunt force trauma.”
“There was never a suicide.” He never mentioned suicide once in his entire life. Daniel has never been institutionalized or had a history of suicidal thoughts or behavior.
The lawsuit claims that the coroner report about Daniel’s death is incomplete. The report was missing photographs of the fatal accident and Daniel’s corpse.
The Saline County Coroner’s Office didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry for comment.
The lawsuit claims that Arkansas State Police investigators “failed” to preserve radio call recordings from the day Daniel was killed. They now claim that the missing evidence was due to an unexplained communication system malfunction on this date.
Cindy Murphy, communications director of the Arkansas Department of Public Safety, and the Arkansas State Police told NBC News via email that “we don’t have any additional information than what was found in the fatal accident summary from last year.”
Murphy said that the department does not comment on litigation that is pending.
LULAC, along with the Barajas Family, are working to introduce in Congress the Daniel Barajas Federal Interstate Safe Traveler Act to help prevent discriminatory practices when law enforcement interacts with motorists while on federal highways. This will also strengthen the legal framework of accountability.
Garcia stated that no congressman has yet to sign on as a sponsor of the proposed bill.
Raquel stated that “if you are driving on a highway under federal jurisdiction and you receive this type of treatment, then there should be more safeguards.” It would be incredible if this could pass.
The Barajas Sisters said that more than a year later, they miss Daniel’s laughter and his cooking. The sisters listen to Daniel’s favorite House music DJs in order to feel closer to their brother.
The Barajas sisters stated that “the grief alone is paralyzing, and sometimes it takes all the energy to get up in the early morning.” “If it can happen to us, then anyone can.”