Friday, July 27, 2012
A life was cut short because of possible overzealousness of the U.S. Border Patrol

Butch Meriwether
Butch's Brew

A Golden Valley Fire Department firefighter picks up his equipment as a Mohave County Sheriff deputy views the wreck vehicle. Photo Courtesy of GVFD
The single-vehicle accident occurred last year on North Colorado Road in Golden Valley. A car with nine occupants overturned numerous times killing one and sending eight others to the hospital.

Two vehicles were possibly involved and one of them, a government vehicle, may have been the direct cause of the Oct. 27, 2011 accident, but there isn't any actual proof the two vehicles actually made contact with each other.

It isn't known if the driver of the U.S. Border Patrol vehicle performed a Precision Immobilization Technique (PIT) maneuver on the 2006 Chevrolet Equinox. But if the agent did, that could have been the direct cause of the accident and the subsequent death of a human being.

The PIT maneuver is one of the methods available for officers to end pursuits. However, it is not often taught or employed by very many law enforcement agencies due to perceived danger and liability issues. In the PIT maneuver, one car can force the pursued vehicle to abruptly turn sideways to the direction of travel (normally in a counterclockwise direction), causing the driver to lose control and stop.

According to the Border Patrol investigation report and based upon the accident investigation by Mohave County Sheriff's Office (MSCO), it was determined the Chevrolet was traveling between 79 and 87 mph at the time of the accident. The vehicle began rotating in a counterclockwise direction, yawing (sliding sideways) for about 280 feet prior to leaving the roadway. The vehicle then overturned numerous times over a distance of about 120 feet after the vehicle's tires dug into the soft dirt alongside the roadway. The counterclockwise yawing is typical of a vehicle hit in the PIT maneuver. PIT maneuvers are only supposed to be done at a maximum speed of 35 mph.

Only the occupants who survived the rollover accident and the agents involved know exactly what occurred and if a PIT maneuver was initiated. We also know the two agents refused to talk with the media or the MCSO.

To add to the mystery of what actually occurred, the agents involved did as their superiors and the lawyers for the agents' union allegedly instructed them to do – they 'lawyered up" and refused to talk with the MCSO deputies who where tasked with investigating the accident. This makes me suspect they are hiding something.

MCSO Sgt. Donald Bischoff, who first responded to the accident scene, asked the two agents involved in the pursuit to wait for the county Accident Investigation Team to arrive to take their statements, but a Border Patrol supervising agent instructed the two agents to return to the USBP Blythe Station and for them not to give statements to MCSO until a later time. According to Bischoff, the MCSO is still waiting for the statements nine months later.

It took a Freedom of Information Act request from me and almost two months of various excuses from the USBP Headquarters why the request wasn't fulfilled in a timely manner and within the federal guidelines. Government agencies are required to at least send a letter confirming the request within 20 days. I guess they utilize a different calendar than I do because 20 days doesn't equate into almost two months.

For those who are unaware, the FOIA is a law ensuring public access to U.S. government records. FOIA carries a presumption of disclosure; the burden is on the government - not the public - to substantiate why information may not be released. Upon receiving a written request, agencies of the U.S. government are required to disclose those records, unless they can be lawfully withheld from disclosure under one of nine specific exemptions in the FOIA. This right of access is ultimately enforceable in federal court. To read the entire text of the FOIA law, visit http://www.justice.gov/oip/foia_updates/Vol_XVII_4/page2.htm.

The USBP investigation report finally arrived in my mail box after more than two months and I immediately realized they had not provided me with all of the documents and records I had requested. I am not sure if they were just remiss in not providing all of the requested documents and material or if it was a calculated maneuver to not disclose everything.

I am a big supporter of law enforcement and I don't make the following statement lightly. After reading the Border Patrol Investigation package provided to me, I noticed some disturbing information. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize the report contains misinformation, omission of facts, inconsistent statements and, possibly, lies.

Here are some of the inconsistent and nebulous statements by the USBP and what I find disturbing factors about their investigation report:

• The USBP agents were parked on Beale Street in Kingman near Interstate 40 observing vehicle traffic driving through the commercial area. It appears the Border Patrol agents were probably conducting the illegal profiling of vehicles that passed their location. According to the report, they noticed a vehicle that displayed many similar characteristics of an illegal alien load vehicle, but didn't spell out what characteristics they observed in the report. A normal profiling includes vehicles with Hispanic occupants, a white van and/or car with out-of-state plates.
Was the aforementioned incident a prime example of the Border Patrol conducting illegal profiling because the vehicle was white and had Hispanic males in it? Did the Border Patrol agents figure they would check it out to see if it was full of terrorists, explosives, illegal aliens or illegal drugs? Did the Border Patrol honestly have a viable tip that someone was using a white Chevrolet Equinox transiting through Kingman with a load of illegal contraband, or were they conducting illegal profiling techniques? Pray to God you're not a dark-skinned person driving a white vehicle and pass USBP agents parked alongside the road. If you do, you'll probably be stopped and questioned in depth as to where you are coming from, where you are going and what you are carrying in your vehicle, even though you didn't do anything wrong.

• A supervisory agent for the USBP Blythe Station stated in a memorandum dated four days after the rollover that the two agents conducting the surveillance on Beale Street started to follow a suspect vehicle. He further stated they turned on their overhead emergency lights in order to close the distance with the suspect vehicle, but ultimately turned them off because they had lost sight of the white vehicle in the mountainous terrain (I presume Coyote Pass).

• One of the agents (the driver of the USBP vehicle) involved in the alleged pursuit stated that he was following the suspect vehicle and when he pulled directly behind the vehicle, he activated his overhead emergency lights and siren in an attempt to make a traffic stop. He further stated the white vehicle sped up and he lost sight of it on Highway 68. I honestly didn't know a Chevrolet Equinox could outrun a Border Patrol vehicle, especially since it was ultimately determined an illegal alien minor was driving it.

• One of the agents (the driver of the USBP vehicle) involved in the alleged pursuit stated that he lost sight of the suspect's vehicle on Highway 68 and not in the mountainous terrain of US 93.

• The other agent (not the driver of the USBP vehicle) stated he and the other agent were assigned to the Kingman area. He further stated that they saw a white vehicle near their location and decided to follow the vehicle to further investigate for immigration purposes. I presume that meant they would get close enough to see the license plate of the vehicle and run it to determine if the vehicle was stolen or not.

• Another supervisory agent stated that the agents were behind a semi truck and couldn't get through traffic because other vehicles were in the fast lane, so they turned on their overhead emergency lights so they could get through traffic to pursue the suspect's vehicle.

• A supervisory agent stated the two agents originally lost sight of the suspect vehicle and then saw a dust trail originating from Colorado Road that intersects with Highway 68. What is interesting is Colorado, where it intersects with Highway 68, is asphalt. When I visited the scene of the accident Oct. 28, 2011, there was no dirt or sand on the pavement at the intersection of Colorado and Highway 68.

• Another supervisory agent said that it wasn't dust that attracted the attention of the suspect's vehicle, but was tail lights of the white vehicle they noticed turning off the main highway and onto Colorado Road.

• Maybe the confusion and inconsistent statements as to how the agents knew the vehicle turned north on Colorado Road would have been clarified if the USBP had provided a copy of the video they took during their investigation of the alleged pursuit route.

• The memorandum by the field operations supervisor for the USBP Blythe Station, dated six days after the accident, said the accident was reported via radio and at that time, they requested medical assistance.

• For whatever reason, the report fails to mention that one of the agents involved in the alleged pursuit actually walked almost 300 feet from the accident scene to a home on Colorado Road and adjacent to where the skid marks in the dirt began and asked the resident to call 911 for medical assistance.

• Neither agent involved in the alleged pursuit stated they had spoke with the neighbor adjacent to where the accident occurred and never mentioned in their memorandum that one of them requested her to call 911 to request an ambulance.

• There is no mention as to if the USBP vehicle had a dash camera installed. And if the vehicle was equipped with a dash camera, was it turned on to memorialize the pursuit?

• If agents want to conduct a PIT maneuver; do they have to receive authorization from a superior prior to initiating the maneuver as most law enforcement agencies require?

• The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and USBP significant incident report stated they didn't expect any media interest. I guess the U.S. government doesn't believe the tragic loss of life during an alleged pursuit by government law enforcement is newsworthy.

• The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and USBP Significant Incident Report stated the agents in the alleged pursuit were on "north Highway 68" (Highway 68 actually is a west-east road) when they noticed a dust trail. It further states in the report the agents continued to follow the dust trail on Colorado (the road is asphalt for more than a mile) until such time as they found the vehicle crashed just south of Aqua Fria Drive.

All I can say is there are way too many inconsistencies contained in the report, especially what the agents said and what their supervisors wrote in the report after interviewing them.

I am beginning to wonder if the entire accident may have gone down entirely different than reported and that the agents and the USBP may be attempting to hide or conceal the actual cause of the rollover. What is said in the Border Patrol investigation report just doesn't pass the litmus test.

No matter if the individual who died was allegedly illegally in this country, his family deserves to know the real reason his life was cut short in a tragic vehicle accident on a desolate dirt road in Golden Valley.
 
Home  Commentaries  Contents  Political Commentaries