Two Border Patrol agents assigned to southern Arizona are suing the agency, accusing its Tucson sector chief of illegally retaliating against them for publicly exposing illegal practices.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tucson, claims that Robert Gilbert suspended the law enforcement powers of agents Juan Curbelo and William Leafstone Jr. because they publicly disclosed a practice of “shotgunning” by the Border Patrol. That practice, according to the suit, involves stopping vehicles without reasonable suspicion that any crime has been committed.
Since August, the agents have been assigned to build fences along the border. Curbelo also drew a two-month maintenance assignment, with duties including painting guardrails, mowing grass and unclogging sewage lines.
Dove Haber, a Border Patrol agent who handles media inquiries, said Wednesday that her agency does not comment on pending litigation.
According to the suit, the agents’ problems began in 2006 when Curbelo’s ex-wife, Concepcion, and children were stopped by a Border Patrol agent near Rodeo, N.M. She was charged with possessing and transporting marijuana.
The suit says Curbelo and Leafstone, while reviewing the arrest report, found “numerous inconsistencies that were an effort to cover up an obvious lack of reasonable suspicion” for having stopped the vehicle in the first place.
Curbelo eventually contacted the Border Patrol’s Office of Inspector General to complain, not only about the “shotgunning” but also other concerns about how his ex-wife’s arrest was handled, concerns Leafstone also shared with that office.
Leafstone also agreed to testify on behalf of Curbelo’s ex-wife at a hearing that resulted in the judge concluding the traffic stop was illegal. The charges against her were dismissed as a result.
Within days of that hearing, the suit says, Gilbert directed both agents to turn in their badges and firearms, with the reason being given that the two had “divulged sensitive Border Patrol information.”
The suit, filed on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, contends the agents were punished for exercising their First Amendment free-speech rights, and in particular Leafstone’s right to testify in a legal proceeding. It seeks a court order returning the two to their full jobs and responsibilities.