8 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the event type is “Unethical Off-Duty Behavior”

June 15, 2022

The Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times reported on Border Patrol “challenge coins,” available on eBay and elsewhere, depicting with pride the September 2021 Del Rio incident in which mounted agents charged at Haitian migrants on the banks of the Rio Grande.

“Whipping ass since 1924” and “Haitian Invasion,” reads one coin rendering the iconic September 2021 photo of a Border Patrol agent on horseback grabbing a Haitian migrant’s shirt.

These are not official items, and the coins’ tie to active-duty agents remains unclear. “These coins anger me because the hateful images on them have no place in a professional law enforcement agency,” said CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus.

CBP was investigating the coins’ origin and told the Los Angeles Times that it will send cease-and-desist letters “to vendors who produce unauthorized challenge coins using a CBP trademarked brand.”

Andy Christiansen, a Utah-based vendor, told National Public Radio “that he still has about 20 coins left and intends on putting them up for sale again.” Christiansen said he did not produce the coins: he purchased them as part of a box of coins that was lost or damaged in shipping and put up for auction. Christiansen said that his stock was “flying off the shelf” and that one coin’s auction price rose to $500.

— Michael Wilner, Jacqueline Charles, “Border Patrol Investigating Coin Memorializing Treatment of Haitian Migrants in del Rio” (Miami: The Miami Herald, June 15, 2022) https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article262498842.html.

— Hamed Aleaziz, “Coins Depicting Border Patrol Agent Grabbing Haitian Migrant Trigger Investigation” (Los Angeles: The Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2022) https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-06-16/coins-border-patrol-haitian-immigrants.

— Jaclyn Diaz, “Ebay Seller Says Coins Depicting Haitian Migrant Incident at Border May Be Sold Again” (National Public Radio, June 20, 2022) https://www.npr.org/2022/06/17/1105901312/ebay-seller-challenge-coins-border-patrol-horseback-haiti-migrants-mexico.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct, Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

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

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:

October 25, 2021

A strongly (and explicitly) worded report from the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued on October 25, detailed the disciplinary process following 2019 revelations of a secret Facebook page at which CBP personnel posted racist, violent, and lewd content (original link). The Committee discovered that for most involved, consequences were light: they “had their discipline significantly reduced and continued to work with migrants” (original link).

In July 2019, ProPublica revealed the existence of “I’m 10-15,” a Facebook group with about 9,500 members, many or most of them CBP and Border Patrol personnel. (“I’m 10-15” means “I have migrants in custody.”) ProPublica, and later the Intercept, posted screenshots of content replete with sexual imagery, threats of violence, racist sentiments toward migrants, and disparagement (or worse) of left-of-center political figures.

“CBP knew about Border Patrol agents’ inappropriate posts on ‘I’m 10-15’ since 2016, three years before it was reported publicly,” the House Committee found. Among the Facebook group’s members were Border Patrol’s last two chiefs, Carla Provost (2018-2020) and Rodney Scott (2020-August 2021). Both indicated that they followed the group in order to monitor agents’ attitudes and complaints. After ProPublica revealed the page’s existence, Provost had said “these posts are completely inappropriate” and that agents “will be held accountable.”

Investigators had a hard time finding out whether anyone was indeed being held accountable. Facebook refused to provide content from the page to investigators from CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), forcing them to rely on screenshots obtained by media outlets. During the Trump administration, CBP refused to hand over disciplinary records to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, even after the committee issued a November 2020 subpoena. The records were turned over in February, after Donald Trump left office.

The Committee found “significant shortcomings in CBP’s approach to disciplining and training employees on social media misconduct.” CBP OPR opened 135 investigations into allegations related to “I’m 10-15” and other unnamed secret Facebook groups. A chief patrol agent, in the role of “deciding official,” made all disciplinary decisions.

This individual decided that 60 of the 135 CBP employees committed misconduct. In the end, the Committee found, “Almost all received significantly lighter final penalties than proposed by CBP’s Discipline Review Board.”

In the end:

  • 2 were fired; CBP’s Discipline Review Board had recommended 24 removals. Both had published sexualized and in some cases violent images of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), among other disturbing content.
  • 43 were suspended without pay, most for five days or fewer; the Discipline Review Board had recommended 60 suspensions. Those suspended were “then permitted to return to work in positions of power over migrants,” the Committee’s report notes.
  • 12 received letters of reprimand, 3 received “alternate disciplinary actions” like suspension with pay, 11 received “corrective or non-disciplinary actions,” and 10 took retirement before disciplinary action was taken. Twelve appealed their punishments.

“The CBP discipline system is broken,” a report from an independent DHS panel had stated in 2016 (original link). “No one official and no single office of CBP is actually responsible for assuring timeliness for all phases of the discipline process,” it notes, while “responsibility for investigating an allegation of misconduct is fragmented.” Improving human rights oversight was not a priority during the Trump administration, so no notable accountability progress was made since that report’s publication.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee report described the byzantine accountability process:

OPR investigates the conduct, and CBP’s Discipline Review Board proposes discipline. A deciding official then makes a discipline determination. In some cases, when CBP substantiates allegations of misconduct, employees may be able to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB); file a grievance with a CBP employee union such as the National Border Patrol Council, which may invoke arbitration on behalf of the employee; or, if they believe the action was discriminatory, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

This description left out the DHS Office of Inspector General and Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which may play at least tangential roles.

“CBP’s failure to prevent these violent and offensive statements by its own agents or impose adequate discipline creates a serious risk that this behavior will continue,” read a press statement from the committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York). “As we saw with the mistreatment of migrants by Border Patrol agents in Del Rio, Texas last month, systemic behavior problems within CBP persist. CBP must take immediate steps to reform its disciplinary processes, strengthen social media policies and training, and address longstanding issues of poor morale within its ranks.”

Border Patrol Agents in Secret Facebook Group Faced Few Consequences for Misconduct (Washington: House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, October 25, 2021) https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/COR%20CBP%20Facebook%20Group%20Report%20-%20October%202021.pdf.

— “Committee Report Reveals CBP Reduced Discipline for Dozens of Agents and Allowed Them to Continue Working with Migrants Despite Violent and Offensive Facebook Posts” (Washington: House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, October 25, 2021) https://oversight.house.gov/news/press-releases/committee-report-reveals-cbp-reduced-discipline-for-dozens-of-agents-and-allowed

Final Report of the CBP Integrity Advisory Panel (Washington: Department of Homeland Security, March 15, 2016) https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/HSAC CBP IAP_Final Report_FINAL (accessible)_0.pdf.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Evading Oversight, Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct, LGBT Discrimination or Harassment, Racial Discrimination or Profiling, Threat of Violence, Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: Congressional Investigation Closed, OPR Investigation Closed, Personnel Terminated, Suspension, Reprimand, or Counseling

Victim Classification:

September 29, 2021

A letter to Justice Department leadership and the DHS Inspector-General from Alliance San Diego alleged that former Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott, who left his post in August 2021, had violated the Ethics in Government Act.

Scott established a consulting firm in July 2021, while still working for Border Patrol. On September 18, he issued a Facebook request for active-duty CBP and ICE personnel to provide information, possibly including restricted information, “to counter the lies and missinformation [sic.] that the DHS Secretary and Biden officials spew everytime they speak about the border.”

— Andrea Guerrero, “Request for investigation of former U.S. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott for violations of the Ethics in Government Act, 18 U.S.C. 207” (San Diego: Alliance San Diego, September 29, 2021) https://www.alliancesd.org/for_immediate_release_request_for_investigation_of_former_u_s_border_patrol_chief_rodney_scott.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

September 18, 2021

A CBP officer was among those arrested at the small “Justice for January 6” far-right protest in Washington on September 18. “The officer had a gun, but was not on duty at the time of arrest,” reported Nicole Sganga of CBS News.

— “Tweet by Nicole Sganga @NicoleSganga” (Twitter: September 20, 2021) https://twitter.com/NicoleSganga/status/1440029782545092619.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct, Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Charges Pending, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification:

April 24, 2021

Francisco Javier Vallejo, an off-duty Border Patrol agent, struck a bicyclist with his car and fled the scene. The cyclist, Humberto Torres Iracheta, 71, was found dead, face down in the roadway.

Vallejo eventually informed his CBP supervisors that he had hit a cyclist. The Rio Grande Valley Monitor reported, “It’s unclear, however, how long it took Vallejo to report the collision.” Vallejo was arrested, the Monitor continued, “and charged with accident involving death, a second-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Vallejo was released the following day on a $100,000 bond.”

— Valerie Gonzalez and Mark Reagan, “Border Patrol agent fled deadly collision with bicyclist; later reported the death” (Hidalgo: MyRGV News, April 26, 2021) https://myrgv.com/local-news/2021/04/26/border-patrol-agent-fled-deadly-collision-with-bicyclist-later-reported-the-death/.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: Under Judicial Review, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: U.S. Citizen or Resident