ACLU Defends Border Patrol Agents for Exposing Practice of 'Shotgunning'

Affiliate: ACLU of New Mexico
May 21, 2008 12:00 am

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ACLU of New Mexico
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TUCSON – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico today filed suit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) authorities on behalf of two CBP agents who were suspended from duty after speaking out against the agency’s practice of “shotgunning traffic”–i.e., randomly stopping vehicles without reasonable suspicion. Agents Juan Curbelo and William Leafstone, Jr. have worked for the CBP for 12 years.

“It’s our contention that the Border Patrol is punishing these officers for breaking the agency’s ‘code of silence’ and shedding light on a practice that brazenly violates the privacy rights of motorists,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico. “Rather than being suspended from their jobs, Agents Curbelo and Leafstone should be congratulated for taking a principled stand, knowing full well that it might not sit well with some of their fellow officers.”

In December 2006, Curbelo’s ex-wife, Concepcion Curbelo, and his children were stopped by a Border Patrol agent during a “shotgunning” patrol near Rodeo, New Mexico. The agent arrested Ms. Curbelo for allegedly possessing and trafficking marijuana, and took her to the Border Patrol station in Lordsburg. A short time later, agent Curbelo received a copy of the incident report regarding his ex-wife’s arrest. Both he and Agent Leafstone noted inconsistencies in the report that, they concluded, were intended to cover up the fact that Ms. Curbelo was stopped without reasonable suspicion.

Agent Curbelo reported his concerns to the Office of the Inspector General, in January 2007. Agent Leafstone testified at Ms. Curbelo’s hearing regarding the practice of “shotgunning traffic.” Both were made to remove their badges, and placed on administrative duties.

Charges against Ms. Curbelo have been dismissed.

“The ACLU has focused on eliminating unjustified vehicle stops, such as this one,” said Dan Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona. “It is inexcusable for a federal agency to retaliate against officers for speaking out against these practices.”

ACLU of New Mexico Staff Attorney George Bach and co-council Dan Pochoda filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tucson, Arizona.

The ACLU’s legal complaint is available online at:
www.aclu-nm.org/PDF/Complaint052108.pdf

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