ACLU sues BP over 'roving patrols,' property damage
The American Civil Liberties of Arizona has filed a formal complaint against the U.S. Border Patrol on behalf of an Arizona woman who says agents threatened her with a Taser and a knife during a 2013 stop, and that agents routinely trespass on the family’s property about 40 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The ACLU filed two claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue the federal government and seek monetary damages.
Clarisa Christiansen said that in May 2013 she was stopped by three Border Patrol agents on the dirt road two miles from her property near Three Points, with her 7-year old daughter and 5-year old son two in the car.
Christiansen said that after asking her if she was a U.S. citizen, the agent ordered her to get out of her car so it could be searched. Christiansen said she did not consent to a search and asked the agent why she was stopped.
According to the complaint, the agent refused to answer her questions and then said to the other agents, "This one is being difficult, get the Taser.”
Two other agents approached the car and one pulled out a retractable knife and threatened to cut her out of her seatbelt if she didn’t get out of the car and took the keys from the ignition, she said.
Christiansen said she had no choice but to exit the vehicle. The agents ran a background check and apparently satisfied, drove away. After the agents left, Christiansen said she found her rear tire was flat and had a large incision in the side of the tire, “consistent with a knife puncture” she said, leaving her and her children stranded on a hot desert road.
Christiansen was one of five examples of problematic stops by Border Patrol agents in Arizona collected together by the ACLU in 2013 showing what the group called a pattern of misconduct and unlawful searches and seizures linked to the agency use of “roving patrols” along the border.
"Unfortunately, the failure of DHS oversight agencies to respond to the roving patrol incident for now more than 18 months is entirely consistent with those agencies past performance and the total lack of meaningful oversight and accountability within the agency,” said James Lyall, an attorney with the ACLU of Arizona. "This is a problem that is very well documented and exacerbated by a lack of basic data collection and inadequate training.”
The U.S. Border Patrol said that it would not comment on pending litigation.
In 2014, the ACLU and two University of Arizona professors sued the Department of Homeland Security over the agency’s refusal to release documents relating to the practice of roving patrols and checkpoints in Southern Arizona.
Over a year later, DHS "still has yet to hand over approximately 75% of those public records, in violation of the FOIA statute," said Lyall. "Still, from what we've seen so far, there is much cause for concern regarding volume of complaints related to interior enforcement operations and the lack of oversight mechanisms to detect and deter abuse."
Last February, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial counties, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the University of California at Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic filed their own suit in a California federal court for the same data in the San Diego and El Centro sectors.
Along with the complaint about the roving patrol stop, Christiansen is also suing the agency over repeated “unauthorized and unlawful entries” by Border Patrol agents.
The family also deals with weekly flyovers by Customs and Border Protection helicopters, sometimes less than 20 or 30 feet over their home.
"Border Patrol helicopters buzz the family’s home at extremely low altitudes, causing dwellings to shake, and often disrupting the family’s sleep with deafening noise and bright lights," Lyall said.
Agents have also repeatedly crossed the property on foot and on motorized vehicles, ignoring posted “No Trespassing” signs.
Under U.S. law, Border Patrol agents may enter private lands without a warrant within 25 miles of the border, to “prevent illegal entry.” Agents may also search a railway car, aircraft, or vehicle within 100 miles of the border, which as the ACLU points out encompasses most of the U.S. population.
Christiansen’s land remains outside this zone.
Christiansen has asked for $500,000 for personal injury relating to the stop, $1,000,000 for property damages and $50 for the slashed tire.