BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) – Border Patrol agents groped a transgender U.S. citizen’s genitals during a four-hour detention that reduced the military veteran to tears after he tried to bring his prescription hormones into the country, he claims in court.
Oscar Almaguer, a Navy veteran, sued four U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents on Wednesday in Federal Court.
Almaguer, 60, says in the lawsuit he started hormone-replacement therapy in the 1980s to transition from male to female, and has been consistently taking such medications since 2013.
Despite his evolving gender identity, Almaguer still goes by Mr. Almaguer.
“Almaguer is referred to in this original complaint using masculine titles and pronouns because these are Mr. Almaguer’s preferred titles and pronouns, because he has not legally changed his name, and for the purpose of providing clarity in this original complaint,” the lawsuit states.
Almaguer says he tried to enter the United States from Mexico at the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville on Feb. 5, 2015. He was living in Brownsville at the time, but has since moved to Colorado.
“On the day of the incident giving rise to this suit, plaintiff exhibited physical characteristics typically associated with females including, but not limited to, softened facial features, long hair, and developing breasts,” the complaint states.
Almaguer says he was dressed in distinctly feminine clothes that day.
He says he showed his Texas driver’s license and Department of Veterans Affairs identification to defendant Agent J. Trevino and handed Trevino a paper bag that contained his prescription hormone-replacement drug, which he had declared on a Customs form.
Almaguer says Trevino reflexively denied him entry into the United States, and didn’t even try to confirm his claim of U.S. citizenship, only telling him to “return to Mexico.”
But Almaguer didn’t budge.
“He explained to Agent J. Trevino that he had been allowed to enter the United States at the Gateway International Bridge with the same prescribed personal use medication and the same forms of identification on several previous occasions. Agent J. Trevino continued to deny Mr. Almaguer entry into the United States and told him to return to Mexico,” the complaint states.
Almaguer says that after he asked to talk to a supervisor, defendant Agent J. Castillo took him to a CBP office at the bridge, where Castillo and defendant Agent M. Rudd pushed his face into a wall, with no explanation why they were searching him.
“Castillo then began to aggressively search Mr. Almaguer’s person while defendant M. Rudd held Mr. Almaguer against the wall. During this search, J. Castillo grabbed and tightly squeezed Mr. Almaguer’s developing breasts causing Mr. Almaguer pain,” the complaint states.
Almaguer says Ruud and another CBP agent then held his arms against a wall, while Castillo dug into his pants.
“As Mr. Almaguer remained restrained, Agent J. Castillo pulled Mr. Almaguer’s waistband away from his body and inserted his hand and forearm, on which he wore a latex glove, inside Mr. Almaguer’s pants. Agent J. Castillo proceeded to grope Mr. Almaguer’s genitals and anus,” the lawsuit states.
The fourth defendant is the unidentified CBP agent. Almaguer says that throughout the search he told the officers he objected to it and asked for an attorney. He says he turned away from the wall and saw several other CBP agents laughing at him.
Humiliated and in pain, Almaguer says, Rudd then took him to another office and threw his medication at him, then took him to a waiting area and told him not to move or talk.
Almaguer says Agent R. Villarreal then entered the waiting room and told him he was a supervisor and gave him his identification cards.
Almaguer told Villarreal about the search and asked for the names and badge numbers of the officers involved, he says, but Villarreal refused to identify them.
“Later Agent R. Villarreal agreed to provide the first initial and last names of Agent J. Castillo and Agent M. Rudd, but not their badge numbers and no identifying information for the defendant unknown CBP agent,” the complaint states.
Almaguer says he “broke down into tears” as Villarreal tried to persuade him not to file a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security, CBP’s parent agency.
After four hours of detention, Almaguer says, the officers let him into the United States.
He seeks punitive damages for excessive force, illegal search and seizure and due process violations.
He is represented by Peter McGraw with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Edinburg.
Customs and Border Patrol does not comment on pending litigation. Its agents have frequently been accused of misconduct in court.
The federal government paid an $85,000 settlement in November 2016 to a disabled woman who was arrested by a Customs and Border Patrol agent for no reason in 2012 and handcuffed so tightly her wrists were rubbed raw.
The government paid a $475,000 settlement in July 2016 to a woman who’d sued CBP in December 2013. She claimed CBP agents shackled her to an exam table at an El Paso hospital and searched her vagina and anus, made her undergo a CT scan, and observed her bowel movements, in a fruitless search for drugs after a drug-sniffing dog “alerted” on her at a border checkpoint.
The San Antonio Express-News reported in 2015 that more than 35 Border Patrol agents were accused of sexual misconduct from 2012 to 2014, and that at least 21 Border Patrol agents had been indicted on or pleaded guilty to charges ranging from sexual assault to possession of child pornography during the previous six years.
The Center for Investigative Reporting, citing Customs and Border Patrol statistics, reported that at least 153 agents had been investigated for corruption from 2005 through 2011. Of those, 48 agents were in Texas, according to the Center. Next highest after Texas were California, with 29, and Arizona, with 24.