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CBP Agent Convicted of Using Excessive Force at Border Crossing

CBP officer (Photo: CBP via Twitter)

By Steve Neavling

A CBP officer who yanked a driver from his car and shoved him to the ground at a border crossing was convicted Wednesday of using unreasonable force. 

A federal jury found Marcos Valenzuela guilty of deprivation of rights under color of law and falsification of records in a federal investigation. 

The incident occurred on Aug. 16, 2019, when Valenzuela was assigned to primary vehicle inspection at the Calexico West Port Entry between Mexico and Southern California. A driver got out of his car to confront a motorcyclist for cutting in front of his vehicle. 

Valenzuela instructed the man to return to his car or he would “throw him to the ground.” The driver complied, but Valenzuela continued to yell at him and eventually ordered him to get out of his car. While the driver was turning off his vehicle, Valenzuela pulled him out of the car and threw him to the ground, causing minor injuries to his neck forehead and forearm. 

Valenzuela handcuffed the driver and told officials in the security office that the driver was the aggressor. Valenzuela also made numerous false statements in a follow-up report, prosecutors said. 

“The jury has found that Marcos Valenzuela used excessive force and deprived a United States citizen of his right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office takes every allegation of excessive force by law enforcement officers very seriously, and where those allegations are supported by the evidence, we will take the appropriate action to ensure that the transgressors are held accountable.  Along with our law enforcement agency partners, we are dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of all members of our community.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner added, “Today’s guilty verdict demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to holding everyone accountable for their criminal actions, regardless of the position they hold.”

Valenzuela is scheduled to be sentenced on July 8. 

“CBP employees and officers take an Oath of Office, a solemn pledge that conveys great responsibility and one that should be carried out at all times with the utmost professionalism,” Elizabeth Cervantes, special agent in charge of the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility in San Diego, said. “CBP employees who disregard that oath and instead choose to violate the trust of the citizens they swore to protect will be held accountable.  CBP will continue to work with our partners at other agencies to seek out and investigate any instance of abuse. This layered approach and collaboration among federal agencies is critical to the mission of professional integrity. Although the percentage of prosecutions for abuse is very small, no incident is tolerated.”

FBI Pledges to Continue Searching for Answers about Robert Levinson on 15th Anniversary of Disappearance

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared while in Iran.

By Steve Neavling

On the 15th anniversary of Robert Levinson’s disappearance on Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray pledged to continue searching for answers about the mystery of his whereabouts. 

Levinson, whose 74th birthday is today, disappeared while on Kish Island, a tourist spot off the coast of Iran. He worked part-time for the CIA, and U.S. officials believed he died while in Iranian custody.  

“Fifteen years passed since Bob disappeared in Iranian territory, but no matter how much time goes by, Bob will forever remain part of our FBI family,” Wray said in a statement. “The FBI and our partners in the U.S. government will continue to seek answers for Bob’s wife, children, and grandchildren. We remain steadfast in our mission to bring Bob home where he belongs, and we will continue to pursue every lead to accomplish that mission, including calling on Iran to assist with Bob’s return.”

Levinson was an FBI special agent for 22 years. 

The FBI renewed its calls to Iran to share information that could lead to Levinson’s return and said the bureau would “hold those responsible for Bob’s disappearance accountable.”

In 2019,  the Department of State Rewards for Justice Program offered a reward of up to $20 million for information that leads to Levinson’s “location, recovery and return.”

Minneapolis Man Sentenced to 10 Months in Prison for Impersonating FBI Agent

By Steve Neavling

A Minneapolis man who impersonated an FBI agent was sentenced to 10 months in prison. 

Benard Holmes, 67, called an unidentified victim in July 2017 and “spoofed his telephone number to make it appear that he was calling his victim from the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office.”

During the call, Holmes identified himself as “FBI Special Agent John Tidwell,” used a fake FBI badge number, and claimed he was investigating terrorism connected to the victim’s household. He cited fake evidence from computer and IP address at the victim’s home. 

Holmes questioned the victim with “highly charged words,” such as “ISIS” and “Patriot Act.”

Holmes pleaded guilty to one count of impersonating a federal officer on Oct. 20. 

Holmes’ motives were unclear in a Justice Department news release.

The FBI and Bloomington Police Department investigated the case. 

Jury Delivers First Guilty Verdict Stemming from Jan. 6 Riot

Alex Gakos/Shutterstock.com

By Steve Neavling

The first person to stand trial in connection with the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was found guilty on all charges Tuesday. 

A federal jury found Guy Reffitt, an oil field worker from Wylie, Texas, guilty on five counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding, making threats to obstruct justice and bringing a firearm to a restricted area.

The maximum penalty for the obstruction count alone is 20 years in prison. 

In a statement, Steven D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, sent a message to the remaining defendants who have not yet pleaded guilty.  

“Rather than take responsibility for his actions at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Mr. Reffitt opted to put his family through a painful trial,” D’Antuono said. “Today’s guilty verdict in the first jury trial of a Jan. 6 defendant should serve as a reminder for others who committed crimes at the Capitol that day that these are serious charges and that the FBI and our law enforcement partners will do what it takes to hold them accountable.”

It took the jury just three hours to deliberate. 

The verdict was important for the Justice Department, particularly because of a rarely used obstruction charge that is being challenged by other defendants, The New York Times reports.

Of the more than 750 rioters who have been charged in the riot, more than 200 have pleaded guilty. 

Republicans Warn That a DOJ Investigation of Trump’s Actions on Jan. 6 Could Backfire

President Trump at a rally. Screen grab via Trump campaign.

By Steve Neavling

The Justice Department risks a messy political battle if it decides to pursue charges against former President Trump, Republican lawmakers warned, The Hill reports.

The warning comes as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol could make a case for prosecution. 

If the committee recommends charges, GOP lawmakers and strategists say, Trump could become more popular within in the Republican Party, and the Justice Department would be accused of being “politically motivated.” 

If the House makes a criminal referral, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said it “would probably have as much political taint as you can get.”

“To me, it’s clearly politically driven,” he said. 

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., added, “Everybody is going to perceive the referral as a conviction on one side and they’re going to view it as the continuation of a witch hunt on the other side. The bar that the House committee has is far lower than anything that would ultimately result in moving forward with a federal investigation and a conviction.” 

Border Patrol K9 Retires After Career Sniffing Out Contraband, Rescuing Human Smuggling Victims

Photo via Border Patrol

By Steve Neavling

By any measure, this four-legged Border Patrol agent had a successful career. 

Since joining the agency in September 2015, K9 Agent Lady sniffed out 730 pounds of contraband and helped rescue more than 800 people from human smuggling attempts, KGNS-TV reports. 

Now the top dog is retiring. 

After going through the canine training center in El Paso, Lady was transferred to Freer, Texas, where she worked with Agent Andrew Nelson. 

Congratulations on a well-deserved retirement, Lady. 

Book Trilogy by Border Patrol Agent Gets Published After His Death, Thanks to His Mother

Delta Tango Trilogy by Christopher LaGrone

By Steve Neavling

Christopher LaGrone left behind his life’s work when he died of altitude sickness while on vacation in Peru in 2018. 

The former Border Patrol agent had written there fictional books, called the “Delta Tango Trilogy,” inspired by his time with the agency in Southern Arizona. 

His mother Sherryl LaGrone set out to get the books published. 

“It was Chris’ dream to be a published author,’’ his mother told Tucson.com. “I was overjoyed that Denny volunteered to finish writing the third book. I had complete faith in him; he knew where Chris was going with the story. He said ‘I won’t do it justice, but I’ll do the best I can.’ Well, he did it justice and then some.’’

Denny Dressman, a Denver newspaper editor, finished the third book as LaGrone searched for a publisher. 

“It was so heartbreaking; Chris had all but finished the third book,’’ LaGrone said. “But once we got over the shock, after we held a memorial service, I was determined to do everything I could to finish Chris’ project and get the books published.’’

She found a publisher – the New York City firm, Morgan, James Publishing. The firm published all three books – “Fleeing the Past,” “Felina’s Spell’’ and “Moments of Truth.’’

LaGrone will talk about her son’s books at the Tucson Festival of Books on Sunday. 

U.S. Marshals Museum Searches for New Leader After President And CEO Resigns Amid Gun Charges

U.S. Marshals Museum in Arkansas.

By Steve Neavling

The president and CEO of the U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith, Ark., resigned from his position last week after he was charged with pointing a gun at two construction workers. 

Patrick Weeks is accused of pointing a pistol at the two workers in December after refusing to let them on his property to repair a street light, KUAR-FM 89.1 reports.

The museum will soon launch a nationwide search to replace Weeks, who had worked as president and CEO since June 2014. 

“We are most grateful to Patrick for his valuable contributions to the museum project. He oversaw the construction of the museum building and worked with Thinkwell Group to design all of the museum experiences which will soon be under construction,” Museum Board Chairman Doug Babb said in a press release. 

Weeks was charged with two felony counts of aggravated assault with a firearm. Weeks, who had been on administrative leave since Dec. 23, has pleaded not guilty.