Is the Border Patrol Above the Law?

Incident presents case for BP officers to wear body cameras

After a Border Patrol agent nearly caused a head-on collision by driving recklessly in a quiet residential Nogales neighborhood, instead of accepting responsibility or even being contrite about his actions, he immediately began to bully the driver. He then came up with various reasons to try to justify his reckless driving, none of which held water. Playing to the camera, among other tactics the agent attempted to mischaracterize the behavior of the photographer, who was still stunned from the shock of almost being in a head-on collision, as being angry and hostile (he clearly was neither). And finally, when a Nogales police officer arrived on the scene, the Border Patrol agent lied to the policeman about the encounter and fabricated an outrageous story to try to implicate the other driver, the victim, as being responsible.

The blind curve where the near-collision occurred.

The blind curve where the near-collision occurred.

Following their initial conversation the driver exited his vehicle to try to flag down the Nogales police officer parked just on the corner just up the street, and get him to come to the scene of the near-accident. He filmed the Border Patrol officer, who continued trying to intimidate him, telling the man that he “was going to be in a lot of trouble” and “pay for his foolishness.”

Playing to the Camera

The agent, knowing that he was being recorded, tried to play to the camera. He made a series of comments to try to mischaracterize what had happened and make it seem like the other driver was behaving angrily or irrationally, which was obviously not the case.

For example, the young, fit and armed federal officer said “don’t you hit me!” as though the middle-aged man holding his camera with both hands may be a physical threat to him. This is an obvious tactic, and one may wonder whether the agent may have been trained to act in this way.

In fact, not only was the photographer not angry, but at times the resident laughed at the obvious lies the agent was telling him.

Lies Told and Exposed

Throughout the conversation the Border Patrol officer provided different reasons for why he was speeding the wrong way on a narrow one-way residential street. He was on an investigation. “Dope” was being smuggled over the fence. He had to back up his partners.

There was clearly no drug smuggling in progress. In fact, trying to smuggle drugs through that residential neighborhood would have been virtually impossible. And any drug busts would have later been reported via a CBP media release (none was).

And judging by the number of Border Patrol vehicles that were parked nearby or slowly pulling up to the scene, there was no other emergency situation that might have provided a justification for his reckless driving.

The bottom line is that none of the reasons given, lies or not, would have excused such dangerous and reckless behavior.

Agent Bowen tried to claim that he was in an emergency situation. But when the Nogales resident pointed out that there were other agents parked at the end of the street, with still others casually pulling up, he said that they were not on the same radio frequency that he was. Really. An emergency dope-smuggling interdiction and all of the responding Border Patrol agents are on different radio frequencies?

The statement may indicate serious tactical issues on the part of the Border Patrol that could have other far-ranging implications, but as an attempt at an excuse it speaks for itself and further discredits the source of the statement.

And if this was an emergency, why was he not using his emergency lights and sirens, and why had the Nogales police not been notified of the situation?

Bowen then tried to claim that the other driver was blocking him, which was quickly disproved by the camera panning back from the scene, showing that if this had truly been an emergency situation that there was ample room for the large vehicle to pass.

The photographer pointed out to Bowen that there was adequate room for the truck to get through – in fact the only potential obstacle was a line of four small, black trash bags containing green waste that were sitting by the side of the road.

Bowen’s response: “You want me to drive over this lady’s trash cans, is that what you think?”

View of the Nogales, Arizona intersection where the near-collision occurred

View of the Nogales, Arizona intersection where the near-collision occurred

The Neighborhood

The quiet, established family neighborhood near downtown Nogales where the traffic altercation occurred is bounded by the border wall, And there is only one road that starts at the wall and passes through the neighborhood, creating a bottleneck in the area two blocks from the border, where the incident occurred, that the Border Patrol can easily control.

At the border wall, one or more Border Patrol vehicles are parked along every path of visibility, every minute of every day. When a person jumps the fence, the parked vehicle often does not have time to respond to the running fence jumper, and instead sends a radio alert to other Border Patrol agents in the area.

The calls are responded to by multiple vehicles, which speed to the area to begin a frenzied search for the newly arrived immigrants, a response that is sometimes so frantic that some locals wonder whether it may be motivated by some form of an internal Border Patrol “bounty,” or rewards system for making an apprehension.

The border crossers, referred to as “bodies” by the Border Patrol, have to run and hide to try to escape detection, a cat-and-mouse chase that the photographer has seen many times on and near his property. Once they are caught, the crossers typically give up without resistance.

The chances of apprehending the border crossers are far greater if a Border Patrol vehicle is parked in the neighborhood, because routes of egress from the border through the neighborhood are limited.

If a Border Patrol vehicle is not present, as several BP vehicles converge on the area they often traverse through the residential streets of Nogales at excessive speeds and rarely, if ever, use emergency lights or sirens.

Drug Smuggling Next to Impossible

Because of the close vigilance of the fence, the “swarm” tactics of the Border Patrol and readily available nearby vehicles and officers, any movement of illicit drugs through the area is not only unheard of, it would be virtually impossible.

Individual runners can barely make it from the fence through the neighborhood, and trying to transport drugs in this manner would be a risk that smugglers would be unwilling to take.

This is especially true in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon.

In fact, despite the abundant numbers of agents who blanket the city, there have been only two reported Border Patrol drug seizures in the entire city of Nogales in the past year, both occurring because the government officers stumbled upon abandoned vehicles containing drugs. (source: Customs and Border Protection media releases)

Police on the Scene

Eventually Border Patrol officer Bowen formulated his fictitious story. And when the Nogales police officer arrived, slowly driving down the hill to the scene, the agent was ready as he rushed over to the policeman.

“I’m trying to get up here, this guy pulls in front of me, comes out and starts filming and says “you’re not going anywhere,” he said. Other than the filming part, they were false statements. Lies.

Bottom line, he told complete lies that are easily disproved by the video, including a disgraceful mischaracterization of the event in an attempt to relieve himself of responsibility and put the driver, the victim, a U.S. citizen and resident of the town, at blame.

He even told the police officer that the photographer had called him a f*ing idiot, which was another lie. What the photographer had said was that Bowen had almost caused a f*ing accident.

Fortunately the photographer had a camera on the seat next to him, and was able to record the encounter. Had he not been able to film it, because of the behavior of the Border Patrol agent the outcome may have been far different.

This, in addition to other incidents, should demonstrate the need for Border Patrol officers to wear individual body cameras. If the agency truly cares about the honest and transparent reporting of encounters and events, it should openly embrace the idea.

Even though it was the Border Patrol agent who was responsible for the near accident, for recklessly placing his vehicle on a collision course with the photographer’s van and threatening the life of the man and anyone else who may have been in his path, the Border Patrol officer had now decided to claim that the victim had purposely moved his car in front of the Border Patrol vehicle, a story so preposterous as to surpass the bounds of believability.

The photographer demanded that the Nogales police officer give the Border Patrol agent a ticket. But that was not going to happen. At least not on that day.

Read the first part of the story

Watch the video

Next: A Blue / Green Wall?

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