TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) - Civil rights abuses by U.S. Border Patrol agents in southern Arizona have reached "epidemic levels," according to a report by two law professors who examined some of the agency's tightly held records.
Derek Bambauer and Jane Bambauer, both University of Arizona law professors, sued the agency in 2014 for access to records on "interior checkpoints and roving patrol stops" in its Tucson and Yuma sectors.
The move is part of a larger effort by the ACLU to document and pursue complaints of abuse by Border Patrol agents in the largely rural and isolated areas between the U.S. - Mexico border and Tucson and Phoenix, which is generally a busy corridor for human and drug smuggling.
While the agency refused to hand over many of the documents requested by the professors, the documents they were able to obtain - about 6,000 pages - contain "recurring examples of Border Patrol agents detaining, searching, and terrorizing individuals and entire families," according to the report.
"They reference dozens of false alerts by Border Patrol service canines resulting in searches and detentions of innocent travelers," the report states. "Above all, these documents show a near-total lack of investigation of, much less discipline for, egregious civil rights abuses; to the contrary, some of the records show Border Patrol tacitly or explicitly encouraging its agents to violate the law."
Because Border Patrol does not record stops that do not lead to an arrest, much of what agents do in these sectors goes unreported, and citizen complaints are rarely investigated properly, the professors argue.
From fiscal year 2012 through fiscal year 2014, oversight agencies within the Department of Homeland Security "reported just three complaints involving alleged Fourth Amendment violations, nationwide."
However, records obtained through the FOIA lawsuit show that "at least 81 such complaints originated in Tucson and Yuma Sectors alone during the same period."
"This is unfortunately what happens when you allow an agency like the Border Patrol to operate in secret, with no effective oversight or any consequences for agents who cross the line," Jane Bambauer said in a statement. "These records describe numerous, serious civil rights abuses that should have been investigated and were not."
The report details numerous examples of allegedly illegal stops, and some 44 allegations of "false canine alerts resulting in prolonged detentions and/or searches of individuals who did nothing wrong and were ultimately released."
Such canine searches often resulted in claims of damage to the vehicle being searched, according to the report.
Overall the professors found about 142 civil rights complaints, 134 of them involving illegal search allegations, "including numerous reports of stops and searches undertaken by agents without any valid legal basis."
"No agency is perfect," Shawn Moran, spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, a union for Border Patrol agents, said.
"The union is in favor of better training," Moran told Courthouse News on Thursday. "But mistakes are always going to be made; there are always going to be complaints in law enforcement - if you are not getting complaints you are not doing your job."
Moran said that he has not heard many complaints about "false alerts" by canines in the Tucson and Yuma sectors.
"Our canines are highly trained, as are our agents," he said.
The U.S. Border Patrol did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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