FTCA Administrative Complaints Challenging Abuses from CBP Roving Patrols

FTCA Administrative Complaints Challenging Abuses from CBP Roving Patrols

When conducting enforcement operations within the United States, CBP regularly sends its officers on “roving patrols.” These patrols, conducted many miles away from the U.S. Border, often lead to the detention and interrogation of U.S. citizens without reasonable suspicion of any crime. Many of the U.S. citizens detained by CBP were targeted because of their ethnicity, and CBP officers have subjected citizens to verbal and physical abuse while checking their citizenship status. Collected here are examples of complaints that the ACLU has filed against CBP to address the continued violation of U.S. citizens’ rights at the hands of CBP.

2013 Office of the Inspector General Complaint

On October 9, 2013, the ACLU of Arizona and the ACLU Border Litigation Project  submitted an administrative complaint to the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) and DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) concerning unlawful conduct of Border Patrol agents during roving patrols in Southern Arizona.  The complaint was submitted on behalf of 5 U.S. citizens who detail very serious incidents of verbal or physical abuse when their vehicles were stopped without reasonable suspicion by Border Patrol agents.  In at least two of the incidents, young children were traveling in the vehicles.

The complaint calls for the investigation of these incidents; a comprehensive review of complaints involving CBP roving patrols to determine whether Border Patrol agents are complying with their obligations under agency guidelines, the U.S. Constitution, and international law; and recommendations from OIG and CRCL regarding significant changes in CBP training, oversight, and accountability mechanisms necessary to address the problems and prevent further abuses.

2014 Office of the Inspector General Complaint

On January 15, 2014, the ACLU of Arizona and the ACLU Border Litigation Project submitted an administrative complaint to DHS Office of Inspector General and DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties concerning abuses committed by Border Patrol agents at interior vehicle checkpoints in southern Arizona.  The complaint was submitted on behalf of 15 U.S. citizens, aged 6-69 years old, and detailed 12 incidents in which their rights were violated when they were stopped at 6 checkpoints over a period of a year and a half.

The complaint calls for the investigation of all of the incidents identified; a comprehensive review of all complaints regarding Border Patrol checkpoints over the past five years; a thorough review of Border Patrol checkpoint policies and practices to ensure that operations are in fact limited to briefly verifying citizenship and that agents are receiving guidance regarding the limits of their authority; and a review of all policies and procedures related to service canines, in light of widespread reports of “false alerts” by the dogs.

2015 Federal Tort Claims Act Administrative Complaint

On May 19, 2015, the ACLU of Arizona filed two claims with the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) on behalf of an Arizona woman seeking monetary damages for egregious and repeated rights violations by U.S. Border Patrol agents.

The first claim arises out of an incident on May 21, 2013, in which Border Patrol agents stopped Clarisa Christiansen and her two young children without cause while the family was driving home from school.  After Ms. Christiansen demanded an explanation, the agents threatened to deploy a Taser and then threatened to cut her out of her seatbelt with a knife.  The agents subsequently slashed a rear tire and left Ms. Christiansen and her children stranded on a hot desert road with a flat tire and no explanation.

In October 2013, the ACLU submitted a complaint to DHS oversight agencies on behalf of Ms. Christiansen and four others who were subjected to unlawful “roving patrol” stops by Border Patrol.  More than a year and a half later, those agencies have yet to respond.

The second claim was filed in response to years of unauthorized and unlawful entries by Border Patrol agents onto the family’s private property west of Tucson.  On a weekly basis, Border Patrol helicopters buzz the family’s home at extremely low altitudes, causing dwellings to shake, and often disrupting the family’s sleep with deafening noise and bright lights.  Agents have also repeatedly entered the Christiansens’ property on foot and on motorized vehicles, despite numerous posted “No Trespassing” signs.

Federal law currently grants Border Patrol authority to enter onto private property within twenty-five miles of the border “to prevent illegal entry.”  Agents are further empowered to conduct interior enforcement within 100 miles of any national boundary, an area that encompasses most of the U.S. population.  As in Ms. Christiansen’s case, agents routinely ignore the legal limits of their authority in the course of these operations.

Counsel: ACLU of Arizona

Cervantes v. United States et al.

Cervantes v. United States et al., No. 4:16-cv-00334-CKJ (D. Az., filed June 8, 2016) 

On June 8, 2016, Plaintiff, a teenage U.S. citizen, filed a law suit under Bivens, the Federal Tort Claim Act, and 42 U.S.C. 1983 seeking redress for seven hours of abusive and degrading searches and strip searches by Border Patrol agents.  The complaint alleges that Plaintiff was walking home after eating breakfast in Nogales, Sonora when a Border Patrol agent accused her of carrying drugs.  She was then directed to a detention room, handcuffed to a chair, sniffed by dogs, and strip-searched by female agents.   After no drugs were found, CBP agents brought her to Holy Cross Hospital, in handcuffs, where hospital staff subjected her to invasive pelvic and rectal exams while CBP agents observed.

On October 24, 2016, the Government filed their answer to the complaint.

On February 7, 2017, the government filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s Bivens Claims against Defendant Patrick F. Martinez, M.D. On February 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant Martinez’s motion to dismiss. Subsequently, Defendant Martinez withdrew his motion to dismiss on February 28, 2017. Parties are currently completing discovery.

Counsel: Brian Marchetti, Marchetti Law PLC and Matthew C. Davidson | Law Offices of Matthew C Davidson Limited

Arizona Interior Enforcement Complaint

Arizona Interior Enforcement Complaint

In June 2016, the ACLU of Arizona filed a complaint on behalf of ten individuals with U.S. Department of Homeland Security oversight agencies and the Department of Justice demanding investigations into abuses arising from Border Patrol interior operations.

Most of the incidents described in the ACLU’s complaint arose in the course of Border Patrol checkpoint and “roving patrol” stops.  Several describe agents wrongfully detaining innocent residents for days in filthy, frigid, and overcrowded detention facilities.  Although these individuals were not charged with any crime or immigration violation, their property was confiscated and some had to pay thousands of dollars to recover a vehicle.

In other cases, residents describe facing constant surveillance and harassment on their own property, including frequent incursions by low-flying Border Patrol helicopters.

A copy of the ACLU complaint to CBP and DOJ is available here.

Contact:  Mitra Ebadolahi | ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties | mebadolahi@aclusandiego.org.

Administrative Complaint Re: Extreme Temperatures in CBP Short Term Detention Facilities

Administrative Complaint Re: Extreme Temperatures in CBP Short Term Detention Facilities

On February 2, 2016, NIP/NLG, in collaboration with Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional  and the ACLU of New Mexico, filed an administrative complaint on behalf of persons held by CBP in short-term detention facilities where they are exposed to extreme temperatures. The administrative complaint also challenges the agency standards  addressing temperature controls in short-term facilities, but asserts that the agency fails to abide even by these standards.

Shortly after the complaint was filed, DHS OIG announced that it would inspect short-term detention facilities.

Counsel: Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional (PDIB) | National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild | ACLU of New Mexico

Contact: Trina Realmuto | National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild | trina@nipnlg.org

ACLU of Arizona v. DHS (Tucson Interior Enforcement FOIA)

ACLU of Arizona v. DHS, No.CV-14-2052-TUC-RM-BPV (D. Az., filed April 28, 2014) (Tucson Interior Enforcement FOIA)

In January 2014, the Arizona ACLU and two University of Arizona law professors filed a FOIA request with DHS seeking records related to interior enforcement activities by the Border Patrol’s Tucson and Yuma Sectors (covering all of Arizona and a portion of southeastern California) from 2011 to 2014. The request specified that it included complaints and investigations, apprehension statistics, stop records, policies, and training materials.

DHS failed to respond to the FOIA request, prompting the Plaintiffs to sue in federal court in April 2014.  The government eventually identified at least 10,000 pages of responsive records, but has released only half of those records. Approximately 1,200 pages were withheld in full and the remaining records were heavily redacted; there was no legal justification or explanation for these redactions. CBP subsequently acknowledged the existence of substantially more responsive records, which it has refused to provide.

As of April 2017, litigation is ongoing. On January 26, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a report and recommendation that the District Court (1) grant in part and deny in part Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, and (2) grant in party and deny in part Plaintiffs’ Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. DHS filed its objection to the report and recommendation on March 15, 2017.

Even the limited records released to date provide troubling insights into Border Patrol’s internal enforcement operations.  In October 2015, the ACLU released a report, Record of Abuse, based on the agency records it obtained, which the ACLU also made available on its website.

Contact: Kathy Brody/ACLU of Arizona/520-344-7857/kbrody@acluaz.org

Resources:

FTCA Administrative Complaint by Immigrant Mothers’ Against DHS/CBP/ICE

FTCA Administrative Complaint by Immigrant Mothers’ Against DHS/CBP/ICE

On August 10, 2015, five immigrant mothers sent administrative complaints to the Department of Homeland Security under the Federal Tort Claims Act for the abuses the women and their children had suffered while detained in ICE custody. These women, who fled their home countries due to endemic violence suffered at the hands of criminal gangs and intimate partners, sought asylum in the United States. After entering the custody of CBP/ICE, they endured deplorable detention conditions, including woefully inadequate medical and mental health care, little to no legal information as to their rights and/or fates, no educational services for the detained children, and lack of access to necessities such as food, water, clothing, and bathing facilities.

Counsel: R. Andrew Free | Barrett, Johnston, Martin & Garrison, LLC

Contact: R. Andrew Free | (615) 244-2202 | Andrew@ImmigrantCivilRights.com

Press coverage:

Rodriguez v. Swartz

Rodriguez v. Swartz, No. 14-02251

This civil rights case involves the brazen and lawless killing of a sixteen-year-old boy, J.A., by U.S. Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz. On the night of October 10, 2012, J.A., a Mexican national, was peacefully walking along a street in his hometown of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The street on which he was walking, Calle Internacional, runs parallel to the border fence. At approximately 11:30 pm, Agent Swartz, standing on the U.S. side of the fence, opened fire. An autopsy report shows that J.A. was fatally hit with ten bullets. At the time of the shooting, the agents and/or officers were not under threat by J.A. or anyone else standing near him — much less in immediate danger of deadly or serious bodily harm. J.A. death was senseless and unjustified. Plaintiff Araceli Rodriguez filed this Bivens action for monetary damages for the killing of her youngest son, alleging claims under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

On July 10, 2015, the District Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant’s motion to dismiss. Disagreeing with the en banc Fifth Circuit, Chief Judge Raner C. Collins held that Rodriguez’s Fourth Amendment claim could proceed and that Agent Swartz was not entitled to qualified immunity.

In mid-September, 2015, the Department of Justice charged Swartz criminally with second degree murder.

In the civil case, Defendant filed a Notice of Appeal with the Ninth Circuit. Briefing is complete as of June 1, 2016.  On October 21, 2016, the parties argued the case at the Ninth Circuit. The court is holding a decision in the case pending a decision by the Supreme Court in Hernandez v. United States.

Press

Contact: Mitra Ebadolahi | ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties | mebadolahi@aclusandiego.org

Doe v. Johnson

Doe v. Johnson, No. 15-00250 (D. Ariz., filed June 8, 2015)

Immigrant rights groups have filed a class-action lawsuit challenging detention conditions in CBP (Customs and Border Protection) detention facilities. The complaint alleges that Tucson Sector Border Patrol holds men, women, and children in freezing, overcrowded, and filthy cells for days at a time in violation of the U.S. Constitution and CBP’s own policies. Detained individuals are stripped of outer layers of clothing and forced to suffer in brutally cold temperatures; deprived of beds, bedding, and sleep; denied adequate food, water, medicine and medical care, and basic sanitation and hygiene items such as soap, sufficient toilet paper, sanitary napkins, diapers, and showers; and held virtually incommunicado in these conditions for days.

The American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU of Arizona, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Morrison & Foerster LLP have filed suit on behalf of two women detained in the Tucson Border Patrol Station as well as a Tucson man detained twice in that facility. All Plaintiffs consistently recount days of mistreatment and neglect during their time in Border Patrol holding cells. Plaintiffs’ accounts are fully consistent with accounts of the many former detainees who signed declarations describing their confinement in holding cells within the Tucson Sector. Plaintiffs allege that conditions in all of the Tucson Sector Border Patrol facilities violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act and seek to compel the Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol to bring its detention facilities in line with Constitutional standards, including limiting the time a person may be detained in holding cells to a few hours, providing adequate food, water, and medical care, beds and bedding, access to showers and hygiene supplies, and maintaining appropriate capacity limits and temperature controls, among other reforms.

Subsequent to filing the suit, Plaintiffs filed a motion for expedited discovery in which they sought the opportunity to inspect 4 of the 8 Border Patrol facilities at issue, as well as copies of CBP video recordings of the holding cells and agency logs from these same 4 facilities dating back to the filing of the complaint.  The Court granted expedited discovery.  Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a motion for sanctions over Defendants’ failure to fully comply with the expedited discovery order, which the Court granted in part.

In early 2016, the Court certified a class consisting of all detainees who now or in the future were held overnight in a CBP facility within the Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol. The Court also ruled on Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, denying it with respect to all of Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims but dismissing Plaintiffs’ APA claims.

On December 4, 2015, Plaintiffs moved for the issuance of a preliminary injunction that would order the Border Patrol to alleviate the harsh conditions of detention as soon as possible. The motion was initially filed under seal. Defendants’ moved to seal much of the evidence supporting Plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction motion, and thus block public exposure to photographs and other revealing evidence.  On January 28, 2016, Phoenix Newspapers Inc., the parent corporation to the Arizona Republic newspaper, moved to intervene in the suit for the limited purpose of opposing Defendants’ Motion to Seal.  The Court subsequently granted the Arizona Republic’s motion, unsealed numerous documents, and asked for further briefing on the remainder.  The Court also amended the class definition such that it now includes all individuals who now are or in the future will be detained by Border Patrol in its Tucson Sector.

On November 14th, 2016, plaintiffs presented evidence at an evidentiary hearing for the preliminary injunction, arguing that the Border Patrol’s facilities continued to violate the rights of detainees. On Friday, November 18, 2016, Judge Bury issued a preliminary injunction, holding among other things that forcing a detainee to sleep on a concrete floor with no bedding was a violation of his or her constitutional rights. Stating that “purgatory should not be worse than hell,” Judge Bury then ordered the Border Patrol to improve the conditions in the Tucson Sector for all class members.

On January 3, 2017, the Court denied Defendants’ Motion for Reconsideration. On March 13, 2017, the Court granted in part a motion for sanctions against Defendants for their failure to preserve video evidence. On March 20, 2017, Defendants submitted evidence to the Court indicating that they had taken remedial steps to ensure preservation of video evidence. Both Parties have filed appeals of the preliminary injunction to the Ninth Circuit; in particular, Plaintiffs are appealing the district court’s failure to order Border Patrol to provide beds, showers, and medical screening by a medical professional.

As of June  2017, this case is still pending.

Counsel: The American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU of Arizona, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Morrison & Foerster LLP

Contact: Mary Kenney | American Immigration Council | 202.507.7512 | mkenney@immcouncil.org

Resources:

Jacobson, et al. v. DHS, et al.

Jacobson, et al. v. DHS, et al., No. 14-02485 (D. Ariz., filed Nov. 20, 2014)

This is a First Amendment case brought against DHS, CBP, and certain named officials for their interference with the plaintiffs’ right to protest, observe and record activity at the U.S. Border Patrol’s checkpoint on Arivaca Road near the Arizona-Mexico border. Although CBP claims that this checkpoint is temporary, it has been in continuous existence for seven years. Many residents of Arivaca must drive through the checkpoint every day to reach jobs, schools and shops. The plaintiffs are members of an Arivaca, Arizona community organization which organized a “checkpoint monitoring campaign” in response to a number of complaints of civil rights abuses by agents at the checkpoint. A number of these incidents were detailed in an Administrative Complaint filed with DHS Office of Inspector General and DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

As part of the Checkpoint Monitoring Campaign, volunteers stood on a public right of way adjacent to the Arivaca Road checkpoint and took notes, photographs and video recordings of the actions of Border Patrol agents at the checkpoint. Other individuals, also standing on the public right of way, held up signs protesting the checkpoint. Soon after beginning their monitoring activity, Border Patrol agents ordered the volunteers and protestors to move to a spot much further away, where the monitors would have difficulty observing what was happening at the checkpoint. The agents enlisted the assistance of a local law enforcement officer, who also ordered them to move to another spot. The monitors and protestors complied with this order.

Plaintiffs brought this suit, alleging that the defendants interfered with their First Amendment right to protest, observe and record law enforcement activity in their community. They seek an injunction that would prevent Border Patrol agents from restricting their monitoring activity on the public right of way. In January 2015, Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction.  After oral arguments in April, the court denied Plaintiffs’ motion in September 2015, finding that the Border Patrol’s policy was a valid “time, place, and manner restriction” on Plaintiffs’ speech.

On January 4, 2016, Plaintiffs filed their opposition to Defendants’ motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment.

On September 30, 2016, the district court granted Defendants’ motions and entered judgment against the Plaintiffs. On November 30, 2016, Plaintiffs appealed the District Court’s decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 10, 2017, Appellants Jacobson and Ragan submitted their Opening Brief to the Ninth Circuit.

Related documents:

Counsel: ACLU of Arizona, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and Covington and Burling.

Contact: Mitra Ebadolahi | ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties | mebadolahi@aclusandiego.org

Kathy Brody | kbrody@acluaz.org

Castro Romo v. United States of America

Castro Romo v. United States of America, No. 4:12-041 (D. Ariz. Feb. 6, 2015)

On February 6, 2015, the district court awarded the plaintiff, Jesus Castro Romo, $497,943 as damages for injuries he suffered when he was shot by a Border Patrol agent. Following a five day trial, the court found that the Border Patrol agent, who was on horseback, caught up with Mr. Castro and others as they were walking through the Arizona desert. Mr. Castro ran from the agent, who pursued him. Upon catching up to him, the agent threatened Castro, yelled obscenities at him, hit him with the horse’s reins, had the horse poke him from behind, and ultimately shot Castro in his lower back. The court credited Mr. Castro’s version of events and rejected as less credible the agent’s version that Castro was about to throw a rock at him—both because the agent changed his story over time and also because the agent previously had been convicted of taking a bribe while working for the Border Patrol.

Based upon these facts, the court concluded that the agent had committed an intentional battery under Arizona law; that his use of a gun constituted the use of deadly force; that he was not justified in using deadly force; and that the unresolved question of whether Castro had been operating as a “coyote” did not change the fact that it was unreasonable for the agent to use deadly force under these circumstances. The court considered Castro’s action in running from the agent and reduced the damage award by 10%.

The decision sets out in detail the evidence supporting the various types of damages and the court’s calculations of these damages, including past and future medical and psychiatric expenses, economic damages, and pain and suffering. On March 5, 2015, Mr. Castro filed a motion requesting that the court amend its findings of fact and conclusions of law and enter a new judgment increasing the amount of damages awarded. On July 21, 2015, the court agreed to recalculate Mr. Castro’s damages for future pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life to account for the effect of inflation. The court increased the original damages award by nearly $20,000 to a new total of $516, 320.82.

Counsel: Risner and Graham

Contact: William J. Risner | (520) 622-7494