Watchdog group says Border Patrol uses ‘shadow units’ that tamper, destroy and alter crime-scene evidence

Border Report

Advocates urge Congress to investigate Critical Incident Investigative Teams

SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — The Border Patrol has at its disposal teams of investigators whose job is to suppress evidence that may lead to civil rights or criminal prosecution of agents involved in shootings or other use of deadly force, the Southern Border Communities Coalition alleges.

SBCC sent a letter to Congress last week asking it to look into the Border Patrol’s Critical Incident Investigative Teams.

In that same letter, addressed to congressional leaders, SBCC states the Border Patrol uses “shadow public units” to cover up crimes committed by agents.

“Turns out they have no authority to be doing these investigative searches and they’re not even officially part of what’s known as the internal affairs division within Customs and Border Protection, which is the office of professional responsibility,” said Vicki Gaubeca, director of the SBCC. “We started going, ‘Wait a minute, this is wrong, who gives them authority, nobody knows about them, they’re not on any organizational chart.’ … We just came to the conclusion that these are unlawful teams that arrive on the scene to basically make sure that a Border Patrol agent doesn’t face civil rights violation charges or court cases.”

Gaubeca says their suspicions arose after human rights attorneys began looking into the killing of Anastasio Hernández Rojas at the San Ysidro Port of Entry back in 2010.

Court documents showed agents beat and suffocated Hernández Rojas and shot him with a stun gun.

He was kept on life support for several days until he died on May 31, 2010.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office said the long-time San Diego County resident died after suffering a heart attack, cardiac arrest and brain damage. His death was ruled a homicide.

None of the agents involved were charged with any wrongdoing.

Alliance San Diego, which works with SBCC, says a Border Patrol investigative team arrived at the scene after Hernández Rojas was injured, but never notified the San Diego Police Department, which has jurisdiction in these types of cases.

According to Alliance San Diego, police homicide investigators found out about the incident a day later after members of the media called for details related to Hernandez’s injuries.

SBCC’s letter to Congress says Border Patrol’s investigative teams “have allowed border agents to get away with nearly everything, including murder.”

According to SBCC, the Hernández Rojas case is not an isolated one.

Gaubeca claims they have found other instances in which similar units interfered in other Border Patrol sectors along the southern border.

“It’s covering up, tampering with witnesses, there’s no justice that can be achieved with that kind of activity, with the kind of nefarious activity that is happening,” said Gaubeca. “What we hope to see is for the teams to dissolve, we also hope to see these use of force cases reopened for a proper investigation.”

Border Report reached out to the Border Patrol for comment on SBCC’s concerns and allegations, but our emails went unanswered.

Last week, an unnamed Border Patrol spokesperson told the San Diego Union-Tribune: “The U.S. Border Patrol maintains teams with specialized evidence collection capabilities across the southwest border.”

“These teams consist of highly trained personnel available to respond around the clock to collect and process evidence related to CBP enforcement activities as well as critical incidents,” the unnamed spokesperson told the Tribune. “In the case of serious incidents involving CBP personnel, members of these teams are sometimes called upon to assist investigators from CBP OPR and other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. This is a vitally important capability as many critical incidents involving CBP operations occur in remote locations where other agencies may be unwilling or unable to respond.”

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