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Border Patrol Agents Tase Unarmed U.S. Citizen Inside The United States

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From The Atlantic comes a disturbing account of U.S. Border Patrol agents tasing and throwing an unarmed U.S. citizen to the ground in Ogdensburg, New York.

We hear a lot of disturbing stories about the Border Patrol on the southern border, but this one happened on the northern border. Border Patrol has jurisdiction up to 100 miles into the U.S. — and complaints against the agency are often ignored.

The incident occurred when Border Patrol agents stopped Jessica Cooke, a 21-year-old college student studying law enforcement leadership, during a routine checkpoint along the U.S.-Canada border.

Cooke, who had no plans to cross into Canada, identified herself as a U.S. citizen and produced a New York State driver’s license in order to confirm her identity.

An agent and supervisor then pulled Cooke into a secondary checkpoint, with Cooke then demanding to know why she was being detained.

As shown in the video, the incident quickly escalated when Border Patrol agents both claimed that Cooke appeared to be “nervous,” and for that reason had called a K-9 unit to search the trunk of her car, presumably for drugs.

Cooke was told she was free to go, but that she would have to walk on foot and leave her car behind until the K-9 unit arrived to help agents inspect her vehicle. When Cooke asked what would happen if she went ahead and left in her car, the supervisor informed Cooke he would spike her car’s tires.

The Atlantic describes the intense back-and-forth that ultimately led up to Border Patrol agents tasing Cooke and throwing her to the ground as she screamed in pain:

For a cop who wants to look in someone’s trunk but is stymied by the Fourth Amendment’s ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures,” a dog can be very handy. A decade ago, the Supreme Court said police may walk drug-sniffing dogs around cars during routine traffic stops without any evidence of criminal activity. Last year the Court ruled that an alert by a drug-sniffing dog is enough by itself to provide probable cause for a vehicle search, even though there are lots of reasons (including a handler’s deliberate or subconscious cues) why a dog might alert to a car that contains no contraband.

Last month the Court made this dog trick a little harder by ruling that police may not extend a traffic stop to facilitate a canine inspection in the absence of “reasonable suspicion” that the driver is involved in criminal activity. Perhaps cognizant of that decision, the male Border Patrol agent, who initially told Cooke “you’re being detained,” later said she was free to go, but she could not take her car. “You can leave,” he said. “You can walk down the road right now….Your car’s not going anywhere….I’ll spike the tires.”

Cooke understandably did not want to abandon her car and set off on foot, so she stuck around. The interaction escalated when she refused to comply with the agent’s command to “stand over there”:

Agent: I’m going to tell you one more time, and then I’m going to move you.

Cooke: If you touch me, I will sue your ass. Do you understand me?

Agent: Go for it.

Cooke: Touch me then.

Agent: Move over there.

Cooke: Go ahead. Touch me.

Agent: I’m telling you to move over there.

At this point the agent apparently grabbed Cooke, and soon she was lying on the ground, screaming. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Homeland Security division that includes the Border Patrol, says the agent “deployed an electronic control device during the altercation.”

Cooke was then detained in the back seat of a patrol car while agents waited an hour for the K-9 unit to arrive, and a search of her car’s trunk ultimately turned up nothing.

Still, Cooke, who “exhibited visible scrapes and bruises on her upper back, foot, hands and elbows,” was then held in a Border Patrol cell for hours, as her dog and keys were delivered to her parents. She was later driven home by a Border Patrol agent.

On Friday, a spokesperson from U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a statement regarding the incident:

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is investigating a report from the U.S. Border Patrol’s Swanton Sector about an altercation between an individual and two Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint on Thursday, May 7. The altercation followed a brief verbal exchange between the individual and the two agents regarding their intent to inspect the vehicle.”

The Watertown Daily Times today reports that Cooke has hired legal representation, and is looking at her legal options.

A more detailed account, including Cooke’s dramatic video capturing the moment she was tased by Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint, is available here.