Customs and Border Protection disbands controversial teams that investigated its own units

Published: Monday, May 9, 2022 - 10:52pm
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A memo from Customs and Border Protection says it will disband its controversial investigative teams usually deployed in use-of-force and other incidents involving Border Patrol agents. 

When a Border Patrol agent is involved in a serious incident — like a shooting or car crash — the case is referred to CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.  

But Critical Incident Teams are internal units within the Border Patrol that are also dispatched to the scene to gather evidence and investigate. Vicki Gaubeca with the Southern Border Communities Coalition says that’s not legal.

"Because the Office of Professional Responsibility and their criminal investigators are the only investigators who are authorized by Congress to conduct these investigations," she said.

Earlier this year, several members of Congress called for a government probe into the legality of the Critical Incident Teams and whether they interfered with outside investigations into agent conduct. The call came after Gaubeca's group wrote to lawmakers last year describing the units and asking for a Congressional investigation.  

In a statement, a CBP spokesperson said by October 1, Critical Incident Teams  will be eliminated and Border Patrol personnel will no longer process evidence at critical incidents. The statement said those duties will be handed over to the Office of Professional Responsibility, which will get extra personnel though a Department of Homeland Security appropriation within the fiscal year 2022 budget.   

Since last summer, there have been two Border Patrol shooting incidents and at least one vehicle pursuit that resulted in a fatal crash in Arizona alone. In the most recent incident, a 32-year-old migrant from Mexico was fatally shot by an unnamed Border Patrol agent along a remote border stretch in Cochise County in February. The agent told investigators within the Cochise County Sheriff's Office that the migrant was brandishing a rock. The Office of Professional Responsibility has yet to publish its findings on the case. 

Gaubeca says while disbanding the Critical Incident Teams is a good start, cases that involved them in the past should be re-opened, and the government probe should move forward.