Border Patrol Incident Raises Serious Public Safety Questions in Nogales

Are Border Patrol agents above the law?

Integrity is our cornerstone. We are guided by the highest ethical and moral principles. Our actions bring honor to ourselves and our agency.
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection – Core Values

On a quiet, sunny Saturday afternoon in late September, a Border Patrol officer driving a large, four-wheel-drive Ram 2500 pickup made a decision to go speeding up a narrow, one-way street up a hill through a residential Nogales neighborhood – going the wrong way, with no lights or sirens.

Meanwhile, a resident of that neighborhood was driving slowly, cautiously preparing to make a turn on to that same street going the right direction, at a blind curve at the top of the hill.

Fortunately the driver swung wide as he slowly approached the blind corner, to avoid hitting any children or other pedestrians that frequently walk on that narrow stretch of Dumbault Street. It is a good thing that he used caution in making the turn, because had he driven directly around the corner and onto that street he would most likely be dead.

As the large pickup truck came flying out of the brush overgrowth at the top of the hill, both vehicles had to slam on their brakes to avoid a head-on collision.

Each driver told the other to back up, until the Border Patrol officer exited his vehicle, hand on his sidearm. The Nogales resident, a photographer, quickly removed the camera from the camera bag on the seat beside him and began filming.

And thus began an exchange that exemplifies a Border Patrol public relations problem – the sometimes reckless, hostile, bullying and dishonest behavior of some Border Patrol officers directed at the inhabitants of border areas. It is an issue that contributes to the uglier aspects of the Border Patrol occupation of Nogales.

With more than 800 uniformed and armed Border Patrol officers in this small 20-square-mile city of 20,000 residents, this government agency has a prominent and visible day-to-day presence here. And its presence is undoubtedly a major reason for the relatively low crime rate in Nogales, Arizona. At the same time though, it can create a threat to public safety in this border community.

This high visibility also means that the behavior of individual officers can make a dramatic impact on how the agency and its representatives are perceived by the Nogales public – for good or bad – which in turn becomes a significant quality-of-life factor for the city’s residents. It also makes a visible impression on the city’s visitors and potential visitors.

Blind corner of Dumbault and Summit in Nogales, Arizona

Blind corner of Dumbault and Summit in Nogales, Arizona

From personal experience, the majority of the Border Patrol agents that I see and interact with on a daily basis are friendly, respectful and do their work in a professional manner. But there are some who are not like that. They flaunt traffic laws and are disdainful of, and sometimes outwardly hostile toward, the citizens of Nogales and visitors to this small border community.

The Nogales resident who provided the footage of the near-accident and its aftermath had seen enough of the unnecessary speeding and reckless driving through his quiet neighborhood, a place where many families make their home and with a children’s daycare center just down the block from where the incident occurred. At that moment, where his own life had been threatened, he’d had enough.

Intimidation and Threats

After exiting his vehicle, the first tactic of the agent, rather than exhibit any form of contrition, admit his wrongdoing or see if the other driver was alright, was to attempt to intimidate and threaten the Nogales resident.

The Border Patrol agent first said that he was going to call the police, which is what the other driver had wanted – on his way down the street toward the near-accident the photographer had passed a police officer in a parked vehicle, who for some reason was not coming to the scene.

The driver reminded the agent that he had almost caused a serious accident, and the agent replied “when we have to get places, we have to get places,” to which the driver replied, “you don’t break laws.” The Border Patrol officer’s response? “Yes we do.”

So from that admission, Border Patrol agents (or at least this one) believe that they are not subject to obeying laws under any circumstances. Is there something wrong with this picture?

Following their initial conversation, as the Border Patrol officer walked away 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.”

As the scene unfolded, the Border Patrol official would continue with his hostile, bullying tone as he told more lies trying to justify his actions (including fabricating a story for a local police officer to try to turn the tables and pin the blame on the resident for the incident) and would ultimately threaten the man with the possibility of being “thrown in prison” and having his vehicle impounded.

Next: Why all Border Patrol officers should wear body cameras

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