9 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the accountability status is “DHS OIG investigation Closed”

August 9, 2022

A DHS Inspector-General report, based on seven October 2021 unannounced inspections of El Paso-area CBP facilities, found Border Patrol holding hundreds of migrants in custody for longer than the normal 72-hour limit, despite a lack of overcrowding (original link). In addition, “Border Patrol held some migrants placed for expulsion under Title 42 authorities for longer than 14 days, which is inconsistent with Border Patrol policy,” and CBP was “inconsistent” in its separation of juveniles from unrelated adults in custody.

El Paso Sector Border Patrol Struggled with Prolonged Detention and Consistent Compliance with TEDS Standards (Washington: Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector-General, August 9, 2022) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-08/OIG-22-57-Aug22.pdf.

Sector(s): El Paso, El Paso Field Office

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed

Victim Classification:

April 14, 2022

CBP took 1,919 formal disciplinary actions against members of its 60,000-person workforce in fiscal year 2021, down from 2,021 actions in 2020 and up from 1,629 in 2019, according to a new Report on Internal Investigations and Employee Accountability. (original link).

Just over half of those disciplinary actions (996) were reprimands. In 100 cases were employees removed. Another 2,076 cases ended up with required counselings. These were all roughly similar to 2020 figures.

The report notes 246 CBP employees being arrested a total of 253 times in 2021, a 23 percent increase in arrests over 2020, a year of relatively few arrests. “On average, the employee arrested was 40 years of age and had served just over

10 years with CBP at the time of arrest.” The vast majority of arrests were for “Drug / Alcohol Related Misconduct” or “Domestic / Family Misconduct.” Nine cases were labeled “Corruption,” up from four in 2020.

The agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) opened 684 investigations into use of force incidents in 2021, up from 516 in 2020. Twenty-one were for use of deadly force, up from seventeen in 2020. The vast majority of cases were closed because the agents were found not to be violating policy. Of use-of-force cases closed with a disciplinary outcome, 11 resulted in counselings.

OPR opened 1,044 investigations in 2021, down from 1,947 new investigations in 2020. It closed 1,162 investigations, down from 1,994 in 2020.

Report on Internal Investigations and Employee Accountability FY2021 (Washington: CBP, April 14, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/document/report/report-internal-investigations-and-employee-accountability-fy2021.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies):

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Unethical Off-Duty Behavior, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Charges Pending, DHS OIG investigation Closed, OPR Investigation Closed, Personnel Terminated, Suspension, Reprimand, or Counseling

Victim Classification:

April 7, 2022

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) obtained documents from the DHS Office of Inspector-General (OIG) indicating that the agency’s independent watchdog has been suppressing, delaying, and watering down information about serious patterns of sexual harassment and domestic abuse within the Department’s law enforcement agencies.

The POGO report, “Protecting the Predators at DHS,” offers some shocking findings, as does the New York Times’s April 7 coverage of the report. They include:

  • A 2018 OIG survey found that more than 10,000 CBP, ICE, Secret Service, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees had experienced sexual harassment or sexual misconduct at work. That is more than a third of the 28,000 survey respondents. Of these, 78 percent said they did not report the incident, often out of a belief that doing so would derail their careers. Examples included “surreptitious videotaping in bathrooms, unwelcome sexual advances and inappropriate sexual comments.” The survey was part of an OIG report for which fieldwork ended two and a half years ago, in October 2019—but the report had still not seen the light of day.
  • Of 1,800 sexual harassment cases within the Department, 445 were at ICE and 382 were at CBP.
  • The unpublished OIG report found that DHS agencies paid 21 employees nearly $1 million in settlements from sexual harassment-related complaints over six years, but there are few records of any investigations or disciplinary actions against the aggressors. One victim received a $255,000 payout. Senior officials at the OIG objected to mentioning these settlements in the as-yet unpublished report.
  • The unpublished OIG report notes that “women made up only 5 percent of CBP’s Border Patrol workforce,” well below the federal law enforcement average of 15 percent.
  • Another OIG report, published in 2020, covered DHS law-enforcement personnel found to have committed domestic violence when off duty. Inspector-General Joseph Cuffari and his staff pushed to withhold many key findings that had appeared in this report’s earlier drafts. Initially, the report found that agents who committed domestic abuse received “little to no discipline.” In an internal memo, Cuffari ordered that removed, calling it “second-guessing D.H.S. disciplinary decisions without full facts.” This language is troubling, as second-guessing disciplinary decisions is something that inspectors-general are often compelled to do.
  • Employing law enforcement personnel with a demonstrated propensity for abusing domestic partners and family members “raises questions about someone’s fitness for the job if they abuse someone they have committed their life to,” James Wong, a former CBP deputy assistant commissioner for internal affairs, told POGO. “How are they going to treat a total stranger they have no relationship with [like a migrant]? Who’s going to stop them?” The OIG report’s draft had raised concerns that allowing these agents to keep their weapons “put[s] victims and the public at risk of further violence,” but Cuffari ordered that language removed for risk of “appearing biased.”

POGO, a non-governmental watchdog group, has published past reports and allegations critical of Cuffari, whom Donald Trump named to the DHS Inspector-General post in 2019. “The suppressed DHS watchdog reports on sexual misconduct and domestic violence are part of a pattern where Cuffari has appeared unwilling to oversee his department as an independent watchdog,” POGO’s report contends. “Sadly, Cuffari himself has an undeniable pattern of removing significant facts and evidence from major reports. As a result of this pattern, his independence and impartiality are in question.”

“Only hours after the story appeared,” POGO notes, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “announced he had become ‘aware of draft unpublished reports from the Office of the Inspector General that underscore the need for immediate action.’ Mayorkas announced the creation of a ‘working group’ to ‘conduct a 45-day review of employee misconduct discipline processes currently in effect throughout DHS.'”

On April 26, 2022, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Inspector-General Cuffari voicing concern about POGO’s findings (original link). “Sexual harassment and misconduct in agency ranks always demand immediate action,” reads the letter, which includes a list of questions to be answered by May 17, 2022. “Any efforts by an OIG to obscure or downplay the seriousness or pervasiveness of the issue, or to improperly delay releasing evidence of misconduct, are inappropriate.”

Cuffari responded to the senators with a May 13 letter blaming “senior DHS OIG officials who preceded me,” “the intransigence of some inspectors,” and OIG staff withholding information from him. (original link). The Inspector-General insisted that the withheld reports were not up to established standards, but the letter did not clearly explain why quality improvements would be delayed for years for reports with such striking and significant findings.

“This is not the response of someone committed to meeting the statutory mandate for inspectors general,” read a Twitter thread from POGO’s director of public policy, Liz Hempowicz. “I would never have written this,” Gordon Heddell, a former Defense Department inspector-general, said of the letter in a June 16 New York Times article. “To me, what he’s saying is, ‘I’m leading a very dysfunctional office.’”

On June 16, DHS announced an effort to reform employee misconduct discipline processes. “When Secretary Mayorkas was made aware of the [unpublished draft OIG sexual harassment] report, he immediately launched a 45-day review into Department-wide employee misconduct discipline processes,” the Department’s statement reads (original link). It continues, “Centralizing disciplinary processes will ensure that allegations of serious misconduct are handled by a dedicated group of well-trained individuals, who are not the employees’ immediate supervisors, at each DHS component agency.”

“The announced reforms underscore a deepening rift between the Homeland Security Department and its inspector general,” the New York Times reported on June 16. “While Mr. Mayorkas has taken steps to address the allegations in the reports, Mr. Cuffari and other senior officials in the inspector general’s office have instead either downplayed the significance of the findings or fiercely defended their removal.”

— Adam Zagorin, Nick Schwellenbach, Protecting the Predators at DHS (Washington: Project on Government Oversight, April 7, 2022) https://www.pogo.org/investigation/2022/04/protecting-the-predators-at-dhs/.

— Chris Cameron, “Homeland Security Watchdog Omitted Damaging Findings From Reports” (New York, The New York Times, April 7, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/07/us/politics/homeland-security-inspector-general.html.

— Sen. Richard Durbin, Sen. Charles Grassley, Letter to DHS Inspector-General Joseph V. Cuffari (Washington: U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, April 26, 2022) https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2022-04-26%20RJD%20CEG%20Letter%20to%20IG%20Cuffari.pdf.

Letter from DHS Office of Inspector General to Senators Durbin and Grassley (Washington: DHS OIG, May 13, 2022) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/IG-Cuffari-response-to-Chair-Durbin-and-RM-Grassley-20220513-Redacted.pdf.

— “Tweet from Liz Hempowicz @lizhempowicz” (United States: Twitter, May 18, 2022) https://twitter.com/lizhempowicz/status/1527004986613301251.

— “Secretary Mayorkas Directs DHS To Reform Employee Misconduct Discipline Processes” (Washington: Department of Homeland Security, June 16, 2022) https://www.dhs.gov/news/2022/06/16/secretary-mayorkas-directs-dhs-reform-employee-misconduct-discipline-processes.

— Chris Cameron, “Homeland Security Department Will Make Changes to Its Disciplinary Process” (New York: The New York Times, June 16, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/16/us/politics/homeland-security-department.html.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS, ICE

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct, Sexual Assault or Harassment, Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed, Under DHS Review

Victim Classification: DHS Employee

December 11, 2021

A Yahoo News investigation told the story of Jeffrey Rambo, a Border Patrol agent assigned to the Counter Network Division of CBP’s National Targeting Center in 2017 and 2018. The investigation pointed to very troubling CBP intrusions into the private lives of U.S. citizens not suspected of committing any crimes, while all involved have avoided punishment.

Though assigned to a project with the ostensible goal of combatting forced labor, Rambo and his Division ended up digging through classified government databases to uncover information about the private lives of as many as 20 U.S. journalists. The resulting leak investigation ensnared reporter Ali Watkins, revealing her romantic relationship with a married Senate staffer. Rambo, Yahoo News’s Jana Winter reported,

ran Watkins through an assortment of databases. Those included, among others, CBP’s Automated Targeting System, a tool that compares travelers against law enforcement and intelligence data; TECS, which tracks people entering and exiting the country; the Treasury Department’s FinCEN, used for identifying financial crimes; and the State Department consular database, which included details of her passport application.

Dan White, Rambo’s supervisor at the Counter-Network Division, testified about Charlie Ratliff, a program analyst in the Division who “worked on DOMEX, a program that collects information from the contents of a person’s electronic device when they cross a U.S. border.”

According to White’s later testimony, Ratliff regularly investigated congressional staffers’ travel captured by CBP to run against the Terrorist Screening Database. “White stated that when Congressional ‘Staffers’ schedule flights, the numbers they use get captured and analyzed by CBP,” the inspector general report says. White told the investigators that Ratliff “does this all the time,” looking at “inappropriate contacts between people.”

Starting in 2018, the DHS Inspector-General and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility carried out a two-year investigation into Rambo’s activities, focused on whether Rambo improperly accessed government databases, and sought information outside the scope of his official duties.

The Inspector-General found grounds for potential criminal charges against Rambo, White, and Ratliff, and presented criminal referrals to the Justice Department in October 2020. In the end, Mark Lytle, the head of financial crimes at United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, declined to prosecute, in part because CBP lacked clear policies and procedures governing Rambo’s duties.

“We’re in a very dangerous place if having no rules means officers can’t break any rules,” Hugh Handeyside, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties National Security Project, told Yahoo News.

That same month, Jeffrey Rambo was taken off administrative leave and returned to duty as a Border Patrol agent, where he remained as of the time of Yahoo News’s investigation, assigned to the San Diego Sector. Dan White, Rambo’s former supervisor, was back running the same team as before at the CBP National Targeting Sector’s Counter Network Division. “When the inspector general requested any new policies or procedures the division had for contacts with journalists and people outside government, it received no reply,” Yahoo News found.

Ali Watkins, the reporter whose personal life came most heavily under CBP scrutiny and was working at the New York Times as of December 2021, told Yahoo News, “I’m deeply troubled at the lengths CBP and DHS personnel apparently went to try and identify journalistic sources and dig into my personal life. It was chilling then, and it remains chilling now.”

— Jana Winter, “Operation Whistle Pig: Inside the secret CBP unit with no rules that investigates Americans” (Yahoo News, December 11, 2021) https://news.yahoo.com/operation-whistle-pig-inside-the-secret-cbp-unit-with-no-rules-that-investigates-americans-100000147.html.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, National Targeting Center

Event Type(s): Civil Liberties or Privacy Infringement, Misuse of Intelligence Capability

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Charges Dropped, DHS OIG investigation Closed, OPR Investigation Closed

Victim Classification: Journalist, U.S. Citizen or Resident

November 18, 2021

CBP took 2,021 formal disciplinary actions against members of its 60,000-person workforce in fiscal year 2020, up from 1,629 actions in 2019, according to a new Report on Internal Investigations and Employee Accountability. (original link)

Half of those disciplinary actions were reprimands. In 86 cases was the employee removed. Another 2,112 cases ended up with required counselings.

The report notes 196 CBP employees being arrested a total of 201 times in 2020. “On average, the employee arrested was 41 years of age and had served just over ten years with CBP at the time of arrest.” The vast majority of arrests were for “Drug / Alcohol Related Misconduct” or “Domestic / Family Misconduct.” Four cases were labeled “Corruption.”

The agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) opened 516 investigations into use of force incidents in 2020, 17 of them for use of deadly force. The vast majority of cases were closed because the agents were found not to be violating policy. Of use-of-force cases closed with a disciplinary outcome, 1 resulted in a removal, 2 in reprimands, and 5 with counselings.

OPR opened 1,947 new investigations in 2020, and closed 1,994 existing investigations.

Report on Internal Investigations and Employee Accountability FY2020 (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, November 18, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/document/report/report-internal-investigations-and-employee-accountability-fy2020.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Unethical Off-Duty Behavior, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Charges Pending, DHS OIG investigation Closed, OPR Investigation Closed, Personnel Terminated, Suspension, Reprimand, or Counseling

Victim Classification:

September 14, 2021

The DHS Inspector General completed an unpublished report, obtained in part and revealed in February 2022 by ProPublica and El Paso Matters, sharing findings about the May 2019 in-custody death of Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez (original link). As the journalistic outlets put it, the victim, a 16-year-old unaccompanied Guatemalan migrant, “died of the flu after writing on the floor of his cell” in the Weslaco, Texas Border Patrol station.

Hernández had a 103-degree fever, tested positive for influenza, and a nurse practitioner had instructed agents in writing “that he should be checked again in two hours and taken to the emergency room if his condition worsened.” Only one medical staff person was on overnight duty at the Weslaco Station, which was being used as a makeshift sick ward and had “60-70” flu patients among 210 ill detainees at the time. Agents logged regular “welfare checks” on the boy, but video footage of his cell showed no evidence of checks during a period of nearly four and a half hours.

The log entries were false, the Inspector-General’s report determined. The lead agent told Inspector General investigators that he made hourly checks of the cell, but

added that at that time, it was impossible for him to conduct welfare checks on 300 to 350 detainees every hour. According to [redacted] common practice, Team Leads check the “select all” tab in the [redacted] system and press enter, reporting all detainees received an hourly welfare check.

“Falsifying federal records to impede administration of an agency’s function is a crime,” ProPublica and El Paso Matters point out. “But the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas declined to prosecute anyone in Hernandez’s death, the report said.” The report did not specify whether anyone involved in Hernández’s case had been disciplined. CBP “declined to comment on whether any agents have faced discipline stemming from Hernandez’s death or whether any changes had been made as a result of the inspector general report,” noting that it is continuing an internal investigation of the nearly three-year-old case.

On July 20, 2021, the DHS Inspector-General had reported that, in 98 cases examined of ill people in custody, “CBP could not always demonstrate staff conducted required medical screenings or consistent welfare checks” (original link).

Report of Investigation, Carlos Gregorio Hernandez-Vasquez, U.S. Border Patrol Weslaco Station, Weslaco, Texas (Washington: DHS Office of Inspector General, September 14, 2021) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21196072-dhs-oig-report-carlos-hernandez-vasquez.

— Robert Moore, “Internal Investigation Confirms Border Patrol Failures Leading Up to a 16-Year-Old’s Death on the Floor of His Cell” (ProPublica and El Paso Matters, February 8, 2022) https://elpasomatters.org/2022/02/08/internal-investigation-confirms-border-patrol-failures-leading-up-to-a-16-year-olds-death-on-his-cell-floor/.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed, Under OPR Investigation, Unknown

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Medical Condition, Unaccompanied Child

July 21, 2021

Gregson Martínez, a Border Patrol processing coordinator at the Processing Center in Donna, Texas, struck a 17-year-old Honduran citizen in the face while questioning him about his age and citizenship. Mr. Martínez was terminated on August 2, 2021, and pled guilty on May 13, 2022 to violating the teenager’s constitutional rights. (original link)

The DHS Office of Inspector-General and CBP Office of Professional Responsibility conducted the investigation of Martínez, and the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted the case. Martínez faces up to a year in prison and a possible maximum $100,000 fine; sentencing was scheduled for June 24, 2022.

— “Federal agent admits to violating civil rights of a Honduran teenager” (Texas: U.S. Department of Justice, May 13, 2022) https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdtx/pr/federal-agent-admits-violating-civil-rights-honduran-teenager.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Processing Coordinators

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Conviction, DHS OIG investigation Closed, Judicial Case Closed, OPR Investigation Closed

Victim Classification: Honduras, Unaccompanied Child

July 15, 2021

Border Patrol agent Rodney Tolson pled guilty to conspiring to transport an undocumented alien within the United States. Tolson admitted taking $400-per-person payments in 2019 for allowing non-citizens to pass through the Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate Highway 35 north of Laredo, Texas.

According to the plea agreement, as cited in the Washington Post, Tolson helped a migrant smuggler by “waving him through the checkpoint.”

According to the co-conspirator, Tolson would call to report “which lane and time window to use for crossing through the checkpoint,” the plea agreement says.

At one point, the co-conspirator asked if Tolson was ready to make money.

“U know it,” Tolson said in a WhatsApp social media message the co-conspirator shared with federal agents.

Their transactions would usually take place in the parking lot of a Walmart near the border, where Tolson would receive $400 per person, the documents state.

The DHS Inspector General and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigated Tolson’s case, and referred it to the Department of Justice. On May 24, 2022, Tolson was sentenced in Laredo federal district court to 21 months in prison (original link).

— Julian Mark, “A Border Patrol agent was supposed to guard a U.S.-Mexico checkpoint. He took $400 bribes to smuggle migrants.” (Washington: The Washington Post, July 14, 2021) https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/07/14/border-patrol-agent-admits-bribes/.

— “Federal agent sent to prison for alien smuggling” (Laredo: U.S. Department of Justice Southern District of Texas, May 24, 2022) https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdtx/pr/federal-agent-sent-prison-alien-smuggling.

Sector(s): Laredo

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Corruption

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Conviction, DHS OIG investigation Closed, Judicial Case Closed, OPR Investigation Closed

Victim Classification:

July 20, 2021

A report from the DHS Office of Inspector-General found that “CBP needs better oversight and policy” to attend to migrants experiencing medical emergencies or illnesses while in the agency’s custody (original link).

Though the agency had created new policies and expanding contracts of medical personnel at its facilities, “CBP could not always demonstrate staff conducted required medical screenings or consistent welfare checks for all 98 individuals whose medical cases we reviewed.” CBP agents and officers, the report found, were not adequately trained to identify medical attention needs.

A September 14, 2021 Inspector General report on the May 2019 in-custody death of a Guatemalan teenager found that Border Patrol agents had faked log entries of welfare checks that were not performed (original link).

CBP Needs to Strengthen Its Oversight and Policy to Better Care for Migrants Needing Medical Attention, Report OIG-21-48 (Washington: DHS Office of Inspector General, July 20, 2021) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2021-07/OIG-21-48-Jul21.pdf.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Denial of Medical Care

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed

Victim Classification: Medical Condition