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‘They treated me like a dog’: An Immigrant Was Forced to Clean the Truck of the Border Agent Who Arrested Him

Under ‘Operation Streamline,’ Border Patrol has become responsible for the housing and transporting of immigrants.

View of U.S.-Mexico border from San Diego, CA
Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images

‘They treated me like a dog’: An Immigrant Was Forced to Clean the Truck of the Border Agent Who Arrested Him

Under ‘Operation Streamline,’ Border Patrol has become responsible for the housing and transporting of immigrants.

According to a declaration given to a federal public defender in San Diego, a Border Patrol agent made a detained Mexican immigrant clean the agent’s truck and then shut him inside it with the air conditioning at full blast as the shivering immigrant broke down in tears. When the immigrant said he was cold, the agent turned the heat all the way up and kept the car heated as they drove through a Southern California heat wave to federal court in downtown San Diego. The Mexican citizen, who says he had previously lived in the United States for 18 years, told his lawyer that the Border Patrol agent had announced to a fellow agent that he was “going to make this Mexican clean my truck,” and that after he was done cleaning the truck he felt “like a dog.”

The Mexican citizen, who has asked that we not reveal his name for fear of retaliation by Border Patrol, was arrested on the night of July 24, along with three other people two miles north of the border near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. After being arrested, the border crossers were brought to a Border Patrol station where the Mexican citizen who made the declaration says an agent menaced them with a Taser, threatening to use it, and told them it was “funny to see someone get tased.”

Since July, many immigrants caught crossing the border have been kept longer in Border Patrol custody, as they await criminal prosecution in federal court under the Justice Department’s “zero tolerance” policy, which aims to prosecute as many border crossers as possible. Previously, the vast majority of Mexican immigrants apprehended were almost immediately sent back through a process known as “expedited removal” or through the reinstatement of a previous removal order. Now, with 32 percent of immigrants arrested after crossing the border being brought to federal court to face criminal charges under the expedited prosecution program known as “Operation Streamline,” Border Patrol has become responsible for the housing and transporting of immigrants who had previously been immediately removed or handed over to the U.S. Marshals or ICE for their confinement.

This means that Border Patrol is being pressed into the role of a jailer. Federal public defenders have repeatedly declared in court that this is a role for which the agency is ill-equipped. Border patrol agents often have immigrants sleep in overcrowded and freezing rooms, order that they take turns sleeping on mats, and provide them with limited food during their confinement. They have also repeatedly denied immigrants access to medications that they confiscated during arrests.

Michelle Angeles, an attorney at the Federal Defenders of San Diego, represented the Mexican immigrant who made the declaration, and says it’s unclear whether there has been an increase in instances of abuse by Border Patrol since the beginning of Operation Streamline.

What has changed, she says, is that because of their criminal prosecution in federal court, immigrants in Border Patrol custody are now being provided something they wouldn’t have during previous interactions with the agents: lawyers. It’s during the brief meetings with federal public defenders that stories of mistreatment have begun to come out.

“As I was leaving the station I heard the officer say to another officer ‘I am going to make this Mexican clean my truck,’” the Mexican immigrant told Angeles in Spanish.  “I heard the officer laugh and say, ‘Yeah, make him clean your truck.’ The agent then took me to his truck and told me to clean the truck. He made me pick up with my hands used cans, dirty towels, old gloves, rotten food, paper, and made [me] remove dirt and sand from the truck floor. He then told me to get in the truck and turned the air conditioning on high and left me alone for about 10 minutes. The truck was freezing cold. I was wearing only a thin T-shirt and pants. I got goosebumps and started shaking from the cold. As I sat in the truck I started crying. I was frustrated and emotional by the way I was treated. I lived in the United States for 18 years and I have never been treated this way. The agents have all this power and they abuse it to make us feel less. They laughed and mocked us. They treated me like a dog. I was humiliated.”

Angeles told The Appeal that while Border Patrol has policies in place for how they are supposed to treat people in confinement, there’s almost no way to monitor whether agents are following these policies or to hold officers accountable when they don’t follow the rules.

“It’s sort of the wild wild west. What happens under the scope of Border Patrol in these hills stays there. It’s our client’s word against theirs,” Angeles said. “I say that because even if there’s training, some of these agents feel empowered to abuse their authority and I don’t think that just applies to Border Patrol.” Angeles added that many of her clients have also complimented the agency l for its treatment while in custody.

Border Patrol says it has no record of any incidents during the timeframe this individual was in custody. “The Border Patrol stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission, and the overwhelming majority of Border Patrol employees and agents perform their duties with honor and distinction, working tirelessly every day to keep our country safe,” Eduardo Olmos, a Border Patrol spokesperson told The Appeal. “We do not tolerate corruption or abuse within our ranks, and we fully cooperate with any criminal or administrative investigations of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, on or off duty.”

In the United States, there exist very few remedies for individuals who claim abuse by federal law enforcement agents outside of filing a civil rights lawsuit alleging the violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In the absence of meaningful oversight, Border Patrol agents have often acted with impunity toward a population that is not inclined to speak out, because of fear of retribution or worries that it would complicate their pending immigration cases. Last Tuesday, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision, ruling that a Border Patrol agent could be sued in federal civil court by the family of a Mexican teenager who was fatally shot on the Mexican side of the border fence in October 2012. The ruling further expanded  the context under which civil lawsuits against the agency could be filed and is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Last week, the Mexican citizen who gave the declaration was bailed out of federal custody, had his criminal charges dismissed, and consequently was removed to Mexico. Before his removal, he was held in Border Patrol custody for a few extra days after he had already agreed to an expedited removal. Federal defenders have filed motions documenting the issues with Border Patrol keeping people in detention for days after they have agreed to a removal, especially in the context of the ill treatment many that immigrants reported having received while in custody.

“They don’t treat us like humans,” the Mexican immigrant said, concluding his declaration. “They treat us like animals.”

New Orleans Court Ordered To Stop Funding Itself On The Backs Of The Poor

The criminal court was funneling millions of dollars a year from poor communities.

Paul Sableman/Flickr

New Orleans Court Ordered To Stop Funding Itself On The Backs Of The Poor

The criminal court was funneling millions of dollars a year from poor communities.

New Orleans courts will need to drastically revamp the way they treat poor defendants after two orders handed down by federal judges in the past two weeks struck down both the city’s bail system and a crucial funding structure. The two rulings found that jailing people if they can’t afford to pay court costs violates the constitutional guarantee of due process and equal protection. Both federal judges found that the current system, where criminal court judges control the revenue from bonds and fees they set for defendants, violates due process. Together, the invalidated funding schemes funneled millions of dollars a year from poor communities to the court.

Because of Magistrate Judge Harry E. Cantrell’s practice of refusing to release people on their own recognizance or set bail amounts they could afford, “[p]laintiffs have been deprived of their fundamental right to pretrial liberty,” Eastern District of Louisiana Judge Eldon E. Fallon wrote in his decision on Aug. 6. Given that “deprivation of liberty requires a heightened standard,” he stated that a judge has to prove that there is “clear and convincing evidence” that someone should be detained. That requires an inquiry into whether a defendant can pay the set bail amount and the consideration of alternatives to incarceration.

“You can’t just throw money amounts at people,” noted Jon Wool, director of public policy at the Vera Institute of Justice’s New Orleans office. “You need to say either you’re released on nonfinancial conditions or you’re detained either because you can’t pay money or as preventative detention, but only after a searching inquiry and a high standard of proof.”

That’s a “complete 180” from the way Judge Cantrell had been operating in the courtroom, said Eric Foley, a staff attorney at the New Orleans office of the MacArthur Justice Center. His organization and Civil Rights Corps brought the original case against Cantrell.

Though he is supposed to consider an individual’s ability to pay when setting bond, Cantrell has acknowledged that he refuses to give people bail amounts lower than $2,500—a hefty sum in a city where over a quarter of the population lives in poverty. This is partly because Cantrell has “an institutional incentive to find that criminal defendants are able to pay bail and to set higher bail amounts,” Judge Fallon found. The court gets a 1.8 percent cut of every bail amount Cantrell sets, thanks to Louisiana’s unusual “user pay” court-funding scheme.

In 2015, the court netted over $1 million from bail and bond fees, which could be used for basically any function other than a judge’s salary. Judge Fallon found that Cantrell violated due process by setting bail amounts that his court would later profit from. His opinion came after a final judgment on Aug. 3 in a case finding that judges in New Orleans were unconstitutionally jailing people who couldn’t afford to pay court debts, similarly indicting the funding system that allocated part of those fines and fees to the court itself. “[B]ecause of the Judges’ institutional conflict of interest,” Eastern District of Louisiana Judge Sarah Vance wrote, they “fail to provide a neutral forum for determination of criminal defendants’ ability to pay.”

Last week’s ruling could still be challenged. As the defendant in the case, Judge Cantrell has 28 days to move to alter or amend the judgment, or he could move to appeal it. “If they did in fact challenge it, we’ll go down that road,” Foley said.

But advocates and attorneys are already working to give the ruling teeth. For the Vera Institute of Justice, the immediate focus is getting the City Council to fund the court. “That’s always been the plan: to replace these funding structures…with some combination of city and state direct funding,” Wool said. He expects that the city will offer the court money in exchange for reforming the use of money bail and conviction fees. “Making change at the state level is simply out of reach—there’s too many forces allayed against reform,” Wool said.

The good news for New Orleans is that while the changes will require an upfront investment, the city should soon reap the rewards of lowered incarceration. Vera estimates that reforming bail-setting practices would result in at least 400 fewer people in jail, given that its previous work estimated that 548 jail beds on a given day are occupied by people held because they can’t afford their bail.

That would allow the city to close at least one floor of its jail, reducing staffing and other costs, which would net the city, Vera estimates, a savings of $4 million a year. “That can go back to replace the revenues lost from ending these practices,” Wool said.

“It can be a win-win for the court’s finances and for the city’s budget,” Wool noted, “and not insignificantly for the low-income people who are being targeted for taxation to fund the criminal justice system unnecessarily and inappropriately.”

“To the extent that we can get people who don’t need to be in jail out of jail and back into their daily lives and into their jobs and families while they resolve their underlying criminal charges,” Foley added, “it’s a net benefit for everyone.”

Changes in the courtroom might be slower to come to fruition. “The ball is in Magistrate Cantrell’s court,” Foley said. “Judge Fallon has said basically here is the floor, the bare constitutional minimum of what has to occur at a hearing. Now it’s on Magistrate Cantrell to figure out how he’s going to comply with that.” If he doesn’t comply, Foley’s organization will seek an injunction from Judge Fallon telling Cantrell what must be changed.

“I think [judges] will be reluctant,” Wool said. “But there’s been enough focus on these issues for long enough for them to realize that they need to look for solutions and not merely oppose changes.”

There is a system ready and available to replace money bail when judges are willing to avail themselves of it. Vera helped start up a pretrial risk-assessment tool five years ago that directs judges to base their decisions on whether to release someone not on money, but on the risk of flight or re-arrest. “That’s in place and the court is operating the system now,” Wool said. “Judges have…all they need to move away from money bail.”

The ruling should also reverberate beyond New Orleans. “It’s particularly significant because it goes beyond addressing preset bail schedules or release in misdemeanor cases,” Wool explained. “This is a comprehensive ruling.”

Foley agreed. “It’s a very well reasoned and scholarly opinion,” he said. “It’s an opinion other jurisdictions will be able to rely on.” Other judges may now cite it as a reason to strike down money bail regimes that don’t weigh whether defendants can afford it or court systems that are funded by fines and fees set by their own rulings. The latter “is a nationwide problem,” Foley said. “You have some particularly bad and egregious examples of it in Louisiana, but it is unfortunately a system that has come to prevail across many of the states.”

The decision also requires that defendants be represented by counsel at bail hearings. “The importance of the right to counsel is evident from its inclusion in the Bill of Rights,” Judge Fallon wrote. “Considering the already established vital importance of pretrial liberty, assistance of counsel is of the utmost value at a bail hearing.”

“That could have far-reaching implications for the provision of public defenders statewide,” Foley said. Defendants should soon find themselves represented by a lawyer when their bail is being set.

similar ruling against money bail was issued in January by a California state appellate court, declaring, “A defendant may not be imprisoned solely due to poverty,” and instructing judges to determine whether defendants can afford bail and whether they can safely be released before their trials. But it holds greater weight in Louisiana. “It’s even more [significant] because it shows that even in the South … there are federal courts that will apply the federal Constitution to outlaw these behaviors,” Wool said.

“We’re in a really unique and interesting period in this kind of reform that would even a few short years ago would have been almost unimaginable,” Foley added. But people have come to realize the injustice of jailing people because they are too poor to afford bail. “Whether your rationale is it’s not good because it’s morally wrong or it’s not good because it’s costing an arm and a leg, [the] end result is the same.”

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An Inside Look At An Ohio Police Force’s Race Problem

A white cop joked about bringing explosives to a Black Lives Matter protest in Columbus with no consequences. A black cop joked about ‘black on black’ crime and may be fired.

Lt. Melissa McFadden
Melissa McFadden/City of Columbus

An Inside Look At An Ohio Police Force’s Race Problem

A white cop joked about bringing explosives to a Black Lives Matter protest in Columbus with no consequences. A black cop joked about ‘black on black’ crime and may be fired.

“Anybody know where I can get some C-4???” asked Trent Taylor, a white police officer in Columbus, Ohio, commenting on a fellow officer’s Facebook post about a police shooting protest in July 2016. The post was reported. But Taylor told investigators that his reference to explosives was meant to be “humorous,” and the complaint was dismissed as “unfounded.” The year before, Taylor had been involved in a fatal shooting of a Black suspect, which the department deemed justified.

Six months later, Lt. Melissa McFadden, one of the department’s few high-ranking Black officers, also made a joke, according to police records. But she is now facing far more severe repercussions that reflect the disparities in how Black and white officers are treated, she told The Appeal. During a performance evaluation with a Black sergeant, McFadden said that she could have given him a poor rating, but that she did not believe in “Black on Black crime.” The department found that this rating was an act of favoritism and created a “hostile work environment.” For this, the Columbus police department has recommended McFadden be terminated.

McFadden believes the response to her comment has more to do with what she and other officers of color say is a pattern of systemic racial discrimination in the Columbus police department. Columbus’s population is nearly 40 percent non-white, yet the Columbus Division of Police’s top leadership is entirely white.

The investigation, McFadden argues, is racially motivated retaliation for her role in helping a younger Black officer file two discrimination complaints against a supervisor in 2016, in reporting a commander’s retaliation over these complaints to the chief of police, and later filing her own discrimination complaint.

After McFadden helped the younger officer accuse a supervisor of  discrimination, Columbus police commander Jennifer Knight, who is white, told a subordinate that she was going to “take [Lt. McFadden] out,” according to a lawsuit filed by McFadden. Records from the investigation show that Columbus police chief Kimberly Jacobs was informed of Knight’s comments, but then assigned a friend of Knight, Rhonda Grizzell, to oversee McFadden. In the month that followed, the lawsuit says, Grizzell, another white commander, began targeting McFadden.

Copies of emails and text messages, obtained by The Appeal, seem to support McFadden’s allegations. Some of the communications show Grizzell texting multiple officers about McFadden before they had formally filed any statements complaining about McFadden and later instructing them on how to compose a strong statement. The primary complaint against McFadden came from a sergeant nearly a month after the comment and after multiple conversations about the evaluation with Grizzell.

Another email shows a deputy chief recommending that McFadden, while under investigation, work in the property room “unless and until she is no longer either the subject or complainant in an EEO investigation involving Commander Grizzell.” McFadden claims that this email proves that the department has been punishing her for exercising her legal rights against discrimination, rather than solely for being the subject of an investigation.

McFadden filed her own discrimination complaint involving Grizzell and later filed a lawsuit against the department in response to this alleged retaliation.

In a phone interview, when asked about the department’s response to McFadden’s allegations, Columbus Division of Police spokesperson Denise Alex-Bouzounis said “I can tell you that quite a few of the complainants were African-American.” When pressed about the specific allegations, Alex-Bouzounis said, “I really can’t answer that because it’s part of her lawsuits against us, but I can tell you that Chief Jacobs stands by her decision to recommend termination.” The department did not respond to written inquiries submitted by The Appeal.

But four current officers and one retired officer told The Appeal that they believed McFadden’s allegations of discriminatory retaliation, and say they reflect a larger problem of racism in and outside of the department.

“They’re only going after her because she’s standing up for what’s right,” said one officer, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation. Police investigators in the division “do this all the time,” said the officer. “If you’re a strong, opinionated Black officer, they’ll put you in your place quickly.”

Another current officer agreed, calling the investigation of McFadden a “witch hunt” in retaliation for McFadden helping the younger officer file a discrimination complaint. “Melissa since day one has always been outspoken and stood up for everyone’s rights, Black and white, if it’s wrong, you’re wrong, Black, white, purple, or green.”

“When you’re outspoken they treat you a different way,” said a third officer on the force. “They want you just to be quiet. If you’re not, they retaliate, that’s what they’re doing to Melissa.”

Officers say the alleged retaliation is not the only example of racially disparate treatment in the department’s disciplinary decisions.

In 2014, Eric Moore, a white officer, was accused of calling two Black officers the n-word and making statements about killing them. Colleagues interviewed about Moore said that he would also use the terms “apes” and “monkeys” when referring to Black people. Investigators in 2015 determined that Moore did use derogatory language but only gave him a written reprimand. At the time, Chief Jacobs, who is white and now calling for McFadden to be fired for her comments, said a written reprimand was sufficient for this racist language. “If I could prove a racist, sexist, homophobic mindset impacted an officer’s behavior, that’s something I can act on,” Jacobs told the Columbus Dispatch. “But it has to be actions, not thoughts.”

Last year, video emerged of Columbus police officer Zachary Rosen stomping the head of DeMarco Anderson, a young Black man. The beating took place two weeks after a grand jury declined to indict Rosen for fatally shooting a 23-year-old Black man. Jacobs recommended Rosen be suspended for three days without pay, but the city went further, choosing to fire him. Columbus’s police union, however, rallied behind the white officer and appealed the decision, getting him his job back this year.

“I promise you if that had been a Black officer, FOP [the police union] wouldn’t have rallied behind him, and he would have been fired,” said one Columbus cop.

Beyond overt retaliation, Black officers say racial disparities also manifest themselves in the department’s recruiting and promotion practices.

On the front end, officers, interviewed by The Appeal, alleged that Black applicants are being  ignored and weeded out by the division’s investigative unit. A 2012 memo obtained by Pacific Standard seems to support these claims. In the memo, a Black officer reported to Chief Jacobs that the division’s background vetting team was hand-picking candidates who “look like they will make it through the process,” rather than assessing recruits based on their exam score. Despite occasional rhetoric from the city about the importance of diversity, police recruiting classes have been overwhelmingly white in recent years.

This front-end disparity helps explain why no Black officers on the Columbus police force today make it into top leadership positions, a problem which is exacerbated by exclusive, predominantly white social networks, officers say. Several officers argued that the department has failed to hire enough Black officers, especially from the community, insteading bringing in white officers, who may have either a naive or white supremacist attitude toward Black civilians.

One officer claimed that white officers like to “inflict their own ways of justice” on Black neighborhoods, referring to violent police-civilian interactions. “It’s like a bidding war to get in on these Black precincts,” said one officer. “This their legal way to affect Black people,” said the officer.

Another argued that some officers, especially white officers, come with naive intentions about helping inner city residents, but then become violent once their expectations don’t match what they have seen on television. “You’re out there every day, and the majority of things you see are bad. This job changes you in ways that you can’t see, and you can be become an oppressor. That’s even for minority officers.”

If even veteran police officers are being punished for speaking against alleged racial discrimination, other cops are unlikely to speak against day-to-day police abuse of civilians, the officers argue. “If somebody uses excessive force because of who a person is, that’s a lot of pressure against going outside and saying ‘hey this officer said this or did this,’” said another officer. “This sends a message that if you open your mouth you better get ready, don’t say anything.”

“If I’m retaliated against as an officer, and it goes unchecked,” McFadden said, “of course I’m not going to complain about citizens getting mistreated. We know what happens if we speak out. Even we are retaliated against. We’re Black, but we’re supposed to be blue.”

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