BUFFALO, N.Y. – The attorney for a Homeland Security (search) officer charged with violating a Chinese tourist's civil rights contends "intense political pressure" and greed are driving the case, which has attracted the attention of Chinese and American diplomats.
The lawyer, Steven Cohen, said Robert Rhodes was following Customs and Border Protection (search) procedure when he used pepper spray and physical force to subdue the woman at the Rainbow Bridge (search) on July 21.
Rhodes, 43, could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the civil rights violations.
"It is clear to me that someone is attempting to use Robert Rhodes as a pawn in a much bigger game," Cohen said Friday.
Following a beating that left her face cut and bruised, the woman, Zhao Yan, 37, is suing the United States for $5 million.
Authorities said Zhao was standing nearby when customs officers confiscated marijuana from a male pedestrian at the bridge linking Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Rhodes said in a statement that Zhao and two other women ran when he asked them to come into the inspection station.
An affidavit by a senior Homeland Security agent cited witness accounts of Rhodes spraying Zhao's face, throwing her against a wall, kneeing her in the head and striking her head on the ground.
The state-run China Daily newspaper published a front-page photo of Zhao on Monday, showing her with one eye swollen shut and lacerations on her forehead. The businesswoman was quoted as calling the United States "the most barbarous" country she had been to.
The official Xinhua News Agency reported that China's foreign minister demanded in a phone call with Secretary of State Colin Powell that American border officials be punished. Powell said he would "inquire into the issue," the agency reported.
U.S. Attorney Michael Battle said it was evidence, not political pressure, that led to the criminal complaint. He said the decision to charge Rhodes was made well before there had been contact between U.S. and Chinese officials, and before Zhao had announced her intent to sue.