US Customs and Border Protection agents have killed 46 people since 2005. None have gone to jail, and we don't even know most of their names.
A US Customs and Border Protection officer reads someone their Miranda rights. Photo via Wikimedia
For the last six months, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been spinning its wheels instead of instituting reforms or achieving accountability concerning their agents fatally shooting people. Border Patrol agents have shot to death 46 people in the past decade, 15 of whom were Americans. According to The Arizona Republic and USA Today, agents have shot people they suspected of throwing rocks on the Mexico side of the border. They have shot people while they ran away. In other incidents, unarmed individuals died from Tasers or beatings. There have been no repercussions for CBP agents since 2005, and there have reportedly been no disciplinary actions taken over excessive or lethal force since 2008.
Like most law enforcement agencies, CBP has made timid promises to address the problem, such as telling agents to avoid lethal force situations whenever possible, and not to shoot at rock-throwers unless there is no other recourse. This while still fighting meaningful attempts at reform or transparency. Just recently, on September 11, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit to prevent CBP from permanently sealing the name of the Border Patrol agent who fatally shot a 16-year-old Mexican boy two years ago.
Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was shot at least eight times by the unnamed agent, who said someone was throwing rocks at him while he searched for drug smugglers sneaking over the fence. Rodriguez’s family says that wasn’t him, and that the boy was just walking home after a baseball game. In July, Rodriguez's mother sued, alleging that the officer used excessive force and violated her son’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. Under a deal with CBP, the boy’s family does get to learn the name of their son’s killer—so long as no one else does. A US District Court has demanded that the secrecy be justified by the government, but the agency has done the same thing before, only releasing the names of 16 agents involved in the 46 lethal incidents since 2005.
The excuse for secrecy in the name is like the excuse police in Ferguson, Missouri, used after their officer, Darren Wilson, shot Michael Brown: CBP agents have a special, dangerous job. Someone might target them—like a bad guy angry that a teenager got shot and nobody was held accountable.
Now, onto this week’s bad cops:
- VICE contributor Julia Carrie Wong investigated the Urban Shield convention held earlier in Oakland, California. The convention, which attracted so many protesters that it reportedly won’t be held in Oakland again, is part guns and militarized police expo, part training for various terrorism scenarios, and part opportunity for police to play with all the flashy war gear they may not get to use otherwise. The whole thing is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, making cop-skittish Oakland even more unsettled by its presence.
- VICE News contributor John Dyer reported on the San Diego Unified School District’s acquisition of a 14-ton MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle, which will be repainted so as to look less SWAT-y and, in theory, can be used during a natural disaster of some kind.
- On Tuesday, police in Louisville, Kentucky, along with the the local Alcohol Control Board, reportedly frisked every single patron of a bar before they were allowed to exit. Part of this, including the instructions to line up for a friskin’, was recorded on video—and it’s not hard to see why a local lawyer told media that police broke the law here. The issue that prompted the touching and feeling was ostensibly the bar’s liquor license, with some whispers of drug dealing, but simply being inside of such a bar is not probable cause to be searched. This is both creepy and unconstitutional.
- Prosecutors in Killeen, Texas, will pursue the death penalty for Marvin Louis Guy over a May 9 incident which left one police officer dead and another injured. During the 5:30 AM no-knock drug raid, Killeen police were shot at by Guy. Police Detective Charles Dinwiddie was struck and killed while Officer Odis Denton was shot but recovered after femur surgery. Most drug raids, especially the no-knock variety, take place at an hour during which most people are asleep and it seems likely that Guy has a pretty damn good defense that he didn’t know who he was shooting at. Defendants in similar situations have argued with varying degrees of success. Maybe he got scared when someone barged into his apartment before dawn?
- Police in Sarasota Springs, Utah, fatally shot a 22-year-old black man holding what may not even have been a real sword. According to his mother, Susan, Darrien Hunt was off looking for a job—fake three-foot samurai sword in hand, for reasons unknown—when police shot him dead. Susan Hunt’s lawyer also says an independent autopsy shows that her son was shot in the back, not while “lunging” at police as they are currently saying. This might be a doozy without video evidence, but it does sound like chickenshit cops strike again.
- On Monday, a trooper with the Oklahoma State Highway Patrol was arrested on suspicion of raping a woman. Allegedly, Trooper Eric Roberts pulled a woman over in July, saying she smelled marijuana. He then took the woman into custody, made her watch porn in his car, took her to a secluded area, and raped her. Roberts has been under investigation and suspended from patrol since July 24. Charges have not yet been filed against him, but he’s expected to be charged with a long line of awful things, including second degree rape, forcible oral sodomy, and kidnapping.
- On September 11, the Oklahoma branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Logan County Sheriff Jim Bauman in order to gain access to Bauman’s alleged database of records on up to 25,000 individuals never charged with any crime.
- Last Monday, a SWAT team from the Lake Havasu City, Arizona, police department managed to strike a two-year-old with the door they forced in during a drug raid. No narcotics were found, but a scale reportedly had meth residue. The toddler, who was taken to the hospital to be checked out, seems to be fine. His father, 25-year-old Adrian Guzman, was arrested on felony possession of drug paraphernalia which allegedly contained trace amounts of a banned substance. Drug paraphernalia—which can mean simply plastic baggies—is a bullshit charge and narcotics field tests to “confirm” drug residue are impressively unreliable. Basically, grains of salt all ‘round here. But at least you hit a kid on the head, officers.
- Six Florida corrections officers were fired after they beat an inmate, then lied about the man having spit in the eye of the officer in charge, Captain James Kirkland. Last month, while an inmate at Northwest Florida Reception Center named Jeremiah Tatum was being taken to a shower by five guards, Kirkland said he would fake being spat on as a pretext for beating Tatum. He later made one of guards write the incident reports for all five to make sure they matched up. On Thursday, all five were arrested for felony battery and fired. Kirkland was also dismissed from his job and charged with two counts of official misconduct. Officials are investigating several inmate deaths that have occurred at the prison.
- Oh, hey, five other Florida corrections officers at another prison were also arrested last week, this time for battery of an inmate. Try not to think about what’s probably happening in various other prisons across the United States that we’re not hearing about.
- Nobody cares about weed anymore, right? Especially not in hippie places in Cali, bro! Oh, hang on: “Mysterious Men Dropping From Helicopters To Chop Down NorCal Marijuana Grows." Turns out, these guys who are going around pursuing such worthy goals as destroying Mendocino County’s marijuana harvest are allegedly not even police, but a security firm working with them called Lear Asset Management. Or maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re Mendocino County deputies, which is what Sheriff Tom Allman claims, and no private security firms work with his police. Lear Asset Management’s promotional flyer suggests otherwise, however. Seems like the takeaway is: masked dudes from the sky are cutting up marijuana plants. This kind of Commando raid, “private” or not, is creepily reminiscent of California’s CAMP raids of the 1980s, descriptions of which should traumatize even the most jaded of drug war followers.
- Speaking of civil asset forfeiture gone mad in the city of Philadelphia, Slate’s Dave Weigel reported on even more disturbing stories of people having their money and property taken from them just for sitting in the courthouse “get your shit back” waiting room. My favorite detail is the story of Philly cops putting a gun to the head of a guy running a methadone clinic, then taking $90 bucks and his cellphone.
- On Wednesday, two officers with the New York Police Department stopped a teenage girl from jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Officers Philip Hirsch and Donnell Graves were patrolling the bridge when they saw the 14-year-old sitting on a ledge. Hirsch climbed after the girl, and Graves began talking to her. After some protesting on the teen’s part, she was taken to safety. This quick, life-saving action makes Graves and Hirsch our Good Cops of the Week. Other police take notice: you’re supposed to save suicidal people, not kill them.
Follow Lucy Steigerwald on Twitter.