Border Agency Removes Watchdog Head As Hundreds Of Abuse Allegations Are Ignored

CREDIT: AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

A man who was driving a carload of illegal migrants who fled when stopped by the border patrol sits handcuffed by the side of the road near the town of Aravica, Arizona.

The Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) has reassigned its head of internal affairs on Monday amidst a public struggle to hold border agents accountable for hundreds of allegations, such as physical abuse, excessive use of force, and verbal abuse. According to the Los Angeles Times, James Tomscheck will be replaced by an FBI agent “with orders to be more aggressive at investigating abuse cases,” a “highly unusual” move for the agency to “bring in an outsider to run internal affairs.”

Border Patrol sources interviewed by the LA Times said that Tomscheck had not hired enough investigators to “review hundreds of complaints of abuse and excessive force by Border Patrol agents.” Senior officials added that “he directed agents away from investigating individual cases of alleged wrongdoing toward assisting other agencies, including the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Homeland Security inspector general.” Tomscheck was assigned elsewhere within the agency.

Just last month, the American Immigration Council (AIC) reported that the CBP’s internal affairs office took “no action” in 97 percent of complaints filed through nine southwestern sectors between the 2009 and 2012 fiscal years. While there were 809 formal complaints filed against the CBP agency, 329 cases were still being investigated. But of the remaining 485 complaints, 472 cases resulted in “no action taken” while a mere 13 cases resulted in some form of disciplinary action like counseling, court proceedings against the perpetrator, oral reprimand, or a written report. Some of those instances in which “no action” was taken included a pregnant woman who said that she miscarried after she was kicked by a border patrol agent and a man who alleged that he was stomped on his back even after he was on the ground.

For over a year, the CBP has been under scrutiny for withholding a scathing internal review of its use of force policies from public release by the independent research group Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). That PERF report was especially critical of agents and officers who put themselves in harm’s way in order to justify using deadly force and urged agents to use less lethal force tactics, including getting out of the way of oncoming vehicles instead of discharging their weapons at vehicles. On the same day that the report was made public earlier this month and CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced that he was committed to transparency and holding his agents “accountable,” a border agent killed an unarmed narcotics smuggler.

The CBP website, which on Monday evening still featured Tomscheck as assistant commissioner at the Office of Internal Affairs, stated that he has held the position since 2006 and that the mission of his office was “clear and critically important — to promote the integrity and security of the CBP workforce.” Under Tomscheck’s leadership, the office “developed and implemented a comprehensive integrity strategy designed to prevent, detect and investigate all threats to the integrity of CBP.”