NOGALES, AZ — Human rights advocates are calling for a congressional hearing on what they call an "off the books" investigative unit in the U.S. Border Patrol.
ABC15 started investigating the unit named Critical Incident Team (CIT) this summer after a use of force incident in Nogales, Arizona where Marisol Garcia, a woman from Mexico was allegedly shot in the head by a Border Patrol agent.
The name of the unit was revealed in a Nogales police report from Garcia’s incident.
The police report was first obtained by the ABC15 Investigators.
During the investigation, a spokesperson for Nogales, P.D. told ABC15 that he believed the CIT unit, composed of Border Patrol agents, had arrived at Garcia’s use of force investigation first.
Images from Nogales International, the only news outlet to be present at the scene, shows a Border Patrol agent in the perimeter of the investigation.
So why was the border patrol investigating itself in a use of force incident?
In a statement, a spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said:
“Responses to use of force incidents can be complex and frequently involve overlapping investigations carried out by numerous entities. In this instance, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assumed primary investigative responsibility for the incident working closely with members of the U.S. Border Patrol Tucson Sector Critical Incident Team (CIT) to fully document the crime scene.”
But information about what this unit is and what they do to document a crime scene is nowhere to be found in CBP’s written policies.
In fact, in 2013, the federal government hired the Police Executive Research Forum, a national expert group on policing to review CBP'S use of force.
According to their report, they found the Critical Incident Teams were not in public view and were running parallel investigations.
The report says the information about those units needed to be added to the handbook. However, that information is still not there.
ABC15 reviewed the CBP use of force policy and the use of force administrative guidelines and procedures handbooks, CIT wasn’t mentioned, named, or recognized in either one.
“These teams are covered up teams, pure and simple,” said Andrea Guerrero, a lawyer representing the Southern Border Communities Coalition. The organization just sent a letter to Congress calling for a congressional hearing on the unit.
“The only authorities that Congress allowed to investigate Border Patrol incidents such as this, are the FBI, the Office of Inspector General, the Office of Professional Responsibility, but no part of the Border Patrol has the authority to investigate itself,” stated Guerrero.
According to a statement by CBP:
“Special agents from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) also responded to the incident and notified the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General. OPR will be leading CBP’s Use of Force Incident Team (UFIT) process which will include a comprehensive review of the incident leading to the facts and circumstances being presented before CBP’s National Use of Force Review Board (NUFRB).”
“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. 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.”
ABC15 sent multiple follow up questions about the CIT unit to a spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection:
- Why was Nogales PD not used to assist to collect or preserve evidence for the FBI during the investigation to avoid conflict of interest since this involves a lethal force incident by a Border Patrol agent?
- Point us to the Federal law that gives CIT authority to engage in an investigation of a potential excessive use of force case that could potentially be investigated for possible criminal misconduct.
- What are the “specialized evidence collection capabilities” that members of the CIT possess?
- Describe in detail, what they do to "process" evidence.
- Point me to an official document where I can find detailed written information on the type of training the members of the CIT unit take to “fully document” crime scenes as well as written information regarding when and who gave CIT Border Patrol agents investigative authority during use of force incidents.
Our questions were responded with the following: “Our statement stands.”
ABC15 has requested the report from Garcia’s investigation. In the meantime, Garcia remains in Mexico dealing with medical problems after bullet fragments were found in her head. She was deported without being interviewed by the FBI.
Her case is now a key factor on the call for a congressional hearing that has brought the attention of at least three Congress representatives calling on the Department of Justice to also investigate.