Border Patrol abuse reports prompt calls for cameras, scrutiny

HOUSTON — Within hours of being booked at a Border Patrol station in far West Texas, two teenage sisters from Guatemala came forward to allege that an agent conducted an improper strip search.

The agent in question denied the allegations, including the sisters’ claims that he touched their genitals. He insisted he had only fingerprinted the sisters before taking them back to their cell.

Investigating the case came down to the sisters’ word versus the agent’s. And as in dozens of similar cases, government investigators sided with the agent.

Advocates say the case — outlined in a report compiled by internal investigators — shows the kinds of hurdles detained immigrants face when they make claims of misconduct, even when they come forward immediately, as the sisters did.

“These women were actually, for lack of a better word, lucky that their case was investigated,” said Christina Mansfield, co-founder of the advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants. “They are in the extreme minority in that regard.”

The sisters, ages 17 and 19, entered the U.S. without legal permission in July 2016, several days after leaving their home village in Guatemala. They were detained by Border Patrol agents shortly after crossing the border.

The Associated Press received a redacted copy of the investigative report through the Freedom of Information Act. It shows that investigators determined that the sisters’ allegations could not be substantiated due to a lack of physical evidence.

The station where the sisters were detained did not have cameras in the booking area. The room where the sisters say they were taken, later described as a supply room or a closet, wasn’t processed for fingerprints because the sisters said they didn’t touch anything. And the agent in question said he was alone with the sisters due to manpower shortages, the report says.

Immigration advocates say the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, which reviewed the sisters’ case, rarely recommends action against officers. A study by Freedom for Immigrants found that between January 2010 and July 2016, the inspector general received 84 complaints of coerced sexual contact against U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes Border Patrol. The inspector general opened just seven investigations, none of which are known to have led to charges, according to the study, which was conducted by examining government records.

The study found a similarly low number of cases were investigated by the inspector general for detention facilities operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

CBP would not directly address the sisters’ case or whether it disciplined the agent involved. The agency said it was committed to treating detainees with “professionalism and courtesy.”

Immigration authorities detain and process thousands of people every month who cross the U.S. border without permission. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost said in a recent interview that her agency takes any allegations against any of its 19,000 agents “very, very seriously.” Provost previously led CBP’s internal affairs division, which also investigates allegations of employee wrongdoing and that the agency has taken steps to strengthen in recent years.

“They are very few and far between,” she said, speaking generally about misconduct complaints.

The sisters were taken by agents to the Presidio Border Patrol station and booked into the same holding cell. The agents who detained them went out on another call.

According to the report, a third agent then took the elder sister out of the cell. He told investigators that he processed and fingerprinted each of them before returning them to their cell.

The elder sister told a different story. She said the agent took her into a back room that had a table filled with snacks and drinks. There, she says, the agent told her to lift her sweater and dress. The woman said that after a small photograph fell out of her bra, the agent pulled up her bra. Then, she said, he told her to remove her pants and underwear, then touched her genitals with the outer part of his hand.

The younger sister would accuse the agent of conducting a similar search.

Border Patrol guidelines prohibit male agents to strip-search female detainees “except in exigent circumstances,” and only then with another agent present to observe. Under the guidelines, a vaginal cavity search must be done by a medical professional at a medical facility.

When the agent later heard one of the sisters accusing him of misconduct, the report says, he “became upset and told the girl he didn’t make her do that.”

According to the investigators’ report, one agent said that “this is exactly the reason cameras are needed in the processing area.”

The accused agent would speak to investigators three times. The last time, an investigator noted the agent “appeared to be nervous and removed,” and he “had to constantly review a prepared statement” from his initial interview. But a month after the last interview, investigators took their case to a federal prosecutor, James Miller, who agreed with their conclusion that there was a “lack of evidence.”

Miller declined to comment on why he didn’t pursue a prosecution. The agent did not return phone messages from The Associated Press, nor did his attorney, Raymond Martinez.

The sisters were eventually released and went to live with their mother in California. One of the sisters has since sued the U.S. government. Court filings show both sides are now discussing a settlement.

News Videos
Report knocks Las Vegas for ozone, but local officials cite improvement
The American Lung Association says Las Vegas has some of the highest ozone levels in the nation, but Clark County air quality officials insist the community is improving when it comes to the smog-causing pollutant. (Michael Quine)
It's Rattlesnake Season
As temperatures start to rise in the Las Vegas area, people are heading outside for various activities. Possibly hiking and maybe with a dog. People and pets aren’t the only creatures coming out of their winter homes – so are snakes. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP Trooper sustains dog bite during rescue
A small dog loose on the freeway bites the hand of an Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper that saved it.
Henderson fails to investigate the drug overdose death of one of its officers
Henderson Police Department's internal affairs did not investigate the 2014 drug overdose death of an officer. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP trooper and good Samaritans save a life
Nevada Highway Patrol trooper Jacob Fisher and a group of good Samaritans performed lifesaving CPR on a driver suffering a heart attack last month in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Syphilis Awareness Day
Dr. Joe Iser, District Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, discusses the effects and issues with syphilis in the Las Vegas community on April 16, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas diocese IDs 33 ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse
The Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas released a list on Friday of 33 “credibly accused” of sexual abuse who at some point served in the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CCSD Arbor View meeting
The Clark County School Board hears from the public about racial tensions at Arbor View High School on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Amelia Park-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Parents of autistic student battle Clark County School District
Joshua and Britten Wahrer, parents of a special education student, are battling the Clark County School District for the right to equip their son with a monitoring device. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Metro homeless outreach a shift in strategy
Lt. Joe Sobrio discusses the new homeless outreach team for Metro. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prayer for Opportunity Scholarships
Las Vegas students and adults hold a prayer meeting about the Opportunity Scholarship program on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Solar scams on the rise in Nevada
As Nevada’s solar industry has made a resurgence, solar scammers have followed suit.
Clark County schools and the late bus issue
Year after year, late or no-show buses in the Clark County School District draw the ire of parents and students alike. One year the problem even prompted a parent to crack a school bus window in frustration over a late drop-off. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 southbound congested near Primm Sunday afternoon
Drivers heading toward California on Interstate 15 should expect heavy traffic and a 13-mile backup Sunday afternoon.
Learning lifesaving skills in advance of fire season
Students and firefighters attend a training session at Fire Station 80 in Blue Diamond, Saturday, March 30, 2019. The training session helps volunteer firefighters obtain necessary annual certification to work wild fires.
Car restoration behind prison walls
Inmates share their experiences working for the Southern Desert Correctional Center auto body shop in Indian Springs while learning valuable skills.
Parent remembers Las Vegas boy killed by car
People visit a memorial at the intersection of South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue at at Faiss Park Wednesday, March 27, 2019, where Jonathan Smith, 12, of Las Vegas, died after he was struck while crossing Fort Apache Monday. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Couple left with surprise medical bills after visit to the hospital
Michael Pistiner took his wife, Marta Menendez-Pistiner, to the ER in January after she fainted twice and appeared to be having a seizure. Despite paying $856 monthly for health insurance, the two, self-employed musicians, were stuck with more than $5,700 in hospital and doctor bills after than hour-and-a-half visit. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Las Vegas police brief the media on fatal crash
Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Nick Farese addresses the media about a car accident at South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue that left one minor dead and one hospitalized on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Mike Shoro/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Arbor View parent talks about racial issues at the school
Lawanna Calhoun, a former Arbor View parent, talks about the state of the school. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jim Foley talks about 30 years of living HIV-positive
Jim Foley, who was diagnosed as HIV positive 30 years ago, talks at his home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traffic Slows to a Crawl on I-15S Near Primm
Traffic slowed to a crawl around 2:30p Sunday, on I-15S near Primm, Nevada.
Homeless residents speak about safety
The homeless residents living at the corner of Owens Ave. and Main St. reflect on how they feel about their safety after two homeless men died, one was hit crossing the street and another was beat to death by another homeless man. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
CCSD Superintendent address alleged racially motivated threats at Arbor View
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara gives update on alleged racially motivated threats against Arbor View High School, and says such threats will not be tolerated. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Super Bloom Near Lake Elsinore, California
Crowds packed the hills near Lake Elsinore on Saturday to capture a rare selfie amidst the super bloom of poppies turning the landscape purple. The super bloom was caused by the larger rainfall this year. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fiery accident in Las Vegas
A three-car accident on Spring Mountain Road around 6:30 pm on Monday night
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Stardust implosion anniversary
Twelve years ago today, the Stardust Resort and Casino was imploded. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Lawsuits filed against security contractors at Nevada National Security Site
Two lawsuits were filed today against the current and former government security contractors for the Nevada National Security Site, one on behalf of Jennifer Glover who alleges sexual discrimination and assault and the other on behalf of Gus Redding who alleges retaliation after he gave statements supporting Glover’s claims. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New housing option helps Las Vegas moms keep kids while kicking drugs
WestCare Nevada Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas has added a new transitional housing wing for women who have completed the inpatient treatment at the behavioral health nonprofit to help them as they go through outpatient treatment, shore up their finances and prepare to secure long-term housing. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing