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Border patrol agent, fired over drug comments, is suing

Posted by on Apr. 13, 2011 at 5:10 PM
  • 5 Replies

 

A 26-year-old former Border Patrol agent says he was wrongfully terminated from his job for expressing reservations about the drug war in a private conversation with a colleague. Now, he's suing the man who fired him, and says law enforcement officers shouldn't be afraid to speak out about their personal beliefs, even when they clash with part of their jobs' mission.

Bryan Gonzalez explains in in a radio interview with The Story that one day in April 2009, while patrolling near his Deming, New Mexico station, he pulled over to chat with a fellow agent. Gonzalez told the officer, Shawn Montoya, that he thought legalizing drugs in the United States would end the bloody drug gang violence wreaking havoc in Mexico. The two hotly disagreed, though neither took the conversation personally, Gonzalez said. But the agent told another agent about Gonzalez's views, who then reported the comments straight to Border Patrol's Office of Internal Affairs, according to Gonzalez's complaint.

Gonzales was called to El Paso, Texas, where agents asked him if he was a socialist or wanted to take over the country. He was shocked. "I couldn't believe the ridiculouslness of being accused of wanting to overthrow the government," he said.

On Sept. 16, 2009, right before the customary probationary period would have been up and after nearly two years of service, Gonzalez was fired. According to the complaint (pdf), Gonzalez's termination letter said his "personal views" conflicted with core values of Border Patrol: "patriotism, dedication, and esprit de corps." The full termination letter--provided to the Lookout by the New Mexico ACLU, which is helping Gonzalez--also accused Gonzalez of telling Montoya that he considered himself a Mexican citizen, not a U.S. citizen, and that he was only in America because there are no jobs in Mexico.

"This was a ridiculous mischaracterization of his actual statements," says New Mexico ACLU spokesman Micah McCoy. Texas-born Gonzalez, whose mother was born in Mexico, was a dual Mexican-U.S. citizen. He renounced his Mexican citizenship when he turned 18.

"His statements to his colleague were that as a former Mexican citizen, and as someone who had family and friends on the Mexican side of the border, he understood the economic pressures that push others to immigrate without proper documentation in order to find work," McCoy wrote.

Indeed, Gonzalez confirmed that in his interview with The Story.

"I had respect for [the immigrants picked up by the Border Patrol] because they're willing to walk x amount of miles to make a better life for themselves," he said of the illegal immigrants he processed while an agent. "Just because I felt for them didn't mean I condoned them," he added. "They were breaking the law."

Border Patrol spokesman Mark Qualia told The Lookout the agency cannot comment on any ongoing litigation. He did, however, explain what's meant by the "esprit de corps" listed as a value Gonzalez violated. "You live it, you breathe it, you eat it," Qualia said. "We are one through our struggles ... It's not in a guidebook."

But Gonzalez says it's the Border Patrol supervisors who have violated a core value: his right to express himself.

"That's what America's about--being able to say what you want, being able to think differently," he said.

Terry Nelson, a former Border Patrol agent who is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of former officers who believe some or all drugs should be legalized and regulated, tells The Lookout that he thinks agents who question the war on drugs should speak their minds. Gonzalez was influenced by LEAP's website when he began to question whether the enforcement of U.S. drug policy was fueling powerful and violent drug lords in Mexico. (We wrote about the surprising amount of conservative support lent to a recent NAACP report recommending rehabilitation instead of jail for non-violent drug offenders, which would reduce the country's mammoth prison population.)

"You can still do the job," Nelson says of the contradiction of enforcing drug policy he didn't believe in. "You take the king's corn and you do the king's business. Did I believe I could win? No. Was I upholding the law? Yes. That's what I'm paid to do to ... they're not paying me to agree with everything they do."

The ACLU is arguing that the border patrol violated Gonzalez's First Amendment rights by firing him over his comments, which were not made in an official capacity. They also say his firing could have a chilling effect on other agents. The government has until April 29 to respond to the complaint.

"I hope this goes my way not just for me, but so people within the law enforcement community feel free to speak their mind," Gonzalez told The Story.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Gonzalez was suing to get his job back. He is suing for punitive and compensatory damages.

(Gonzalez: courtesy of the ACLU)

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110413/ts_yblog_thelookout/border-patrol-agent-fired-over-drug-comments-suing-for-his-job-back

 


Thank God......it's Friday!!!

by on Apr. 13, 2011 at 5:10 PM
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Replies (1-5):
Veni.Vidi.Vici
by on Apr. 13, 2011 at 5:55 PM

I agree that he shouldn't have said that to his co-worker, but I don't think he should have been fired.

I can't believe NO ONE responded to this!


Friday
by HRH of MJ on Apr. 14, 2011 at 12:33 PM

 

Quoting Veni.Vidi.Vici:

I agree that he shouldn't have said that to his co-worker, but I don't think he should have been fired.

I can't believe NO ONE responded to this!


 I totally agree with you.

Abortion and anti-Muslim posts are more interesting, I suppose.

 


Thank God......it's Friday!!!

RowdyRoxyRainbw
by Gold Member on Apr. 14, 2011 at 12:37 PM

What does being socialist have to do with anything!  This guy was targeted for his opinion on politics, and that's just wrong.  

Friday
by HRH of MJ on Apr. 14, 2011 at 9:27 PM

BUMP!

pvtjokerus
by Ruby Member on Apr. 14, 2011 at 10:55 PM

Need to see the hard facts (paperwork) on what he was fired for first before comment.

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