Customs and Border Protection sued for using excessive force

A lawsuit against CPB claims an officer used excessive force

We trust them to protect our borders, keeping drug and human smugglers out of the country, but the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is now under fire for overstepping their bounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Customs and Border Protection claiming the agency used excessive force.

The lawsuit claims a federal officer violated a pregnant woman TMs civil rights by searching her and tossing her to the ground so her hard she lost her baby.

For seven years, 32-year-old Laura Mireles has passed through customs everyday on her way to work at the Brady Duty Free store on the Brownsville Veterans International Bridge.

Mireles did this almost daily, without incident, until she closed the store one night last November.

While walking back to her car on Nov. 5, 2012 court documents state Mireles, then pregnant, was approached by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Riano.

Riano asked to search her car.

She agreed, but when Riano asked to search her purse, she asked why.

That TMs when Mireles claims things got ugly.

"She didn't interfere with the search, had no contraband on her, nonetheless when she asked a few questions about the search of her purse, he responded violently, ACLU attorney Adriana Pion said.

Mireles claims Riano walked up to her, grabbed her hands and threw her face down to the ground so hard it caused her jeans to rip.

He then used the weight of his body to forcefully hold her down to handcuff her.

The restraints were so tight the fire department was called in to remove them.

"Force didn TMt need to be used at all, much less to the degree to which it was used," Pion said.

According to Mireles TM doctor, the trauma sustained during this incident forced Mireles to miscarry her unborn child.

"This kind of conduct on the part of our federal agents that are here to protect us is unacceptable, co-counsel attorney Gilbert Hinojosa said.

After the incident Mireles reached out to the ACLU, and last month the union filed suit with CBP for using unwarranted force and physically abusing Mireles.

This all comes after the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General released a report on CBP's use of force.

The September report reveals many agents and their officers do not understand use of force and the extent to which they may or may not use force.

"We've given great powers to these agents and they have to use it wisely, and when we don TMt hold them accountable for instances when that power is abused, it really erodes the trust between the community members that they are supposed to be protecting and ultimately makes us less safe, Pion said.

The report also states the agency had received almost 2,000 allegations of the use of excessive force from 2007-2012 but that the agency failed to properly track that number.

Unless that changes, Pion said incidents like this are likely to continue.

"An incident like this underscores the notion that this is an agency that can abuse its power and is not subject to any repercussions for abuse of that power, Pion said.

While CBP increased the number of Border Patrol agents by more than 50 percent from 2006-2009 the report states the influx of agents did not negatively affect the use of force training.As Washington debates immigration reform, Pion argues America doesn't need greater border security or more troops on the ground.

"What we need is greater transparency and accountability and this case puts a human face on the perils that come when we turn our backs to making sure CBP is accountable for its actions, Pion said.

The report recommends CBP improve its tracking of their use of force and better train agents on how to use it.

The ACLU hopes this suit will put the pressure on the agency to follow those recommendations.

"When you have agents doing these kinds of things, it reduces the trust and the way people look at these agents who are really here to protect us, Hinojosa said.

When Action 4 News questioned CBP about the lawsuit they released the following statement.

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection is not at liberty to comment on matters under pending litigation."

The first hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 21, 2014 in a Brownsville federal court.

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