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  4. CBP Releases Findings of Investigation of Horse Patrol Activity in Del Rio, Texas

CBP Releases Findings of Investigation of Horse Patrol Activity in Del Rio, Texas

Release Date

Findings show organizational failures, several Agents acted inappropriately CBP makes institutional changes while disciplinary process underway

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) published the findings of the Office of Professional Responsibility’s investigation of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Horse Patrol Unit activity in Del Rio, Texas, on September 19, 2021. The investigation concluded that there were failures at multiple levels of the agency, a lack of appropriate policies and training, and unprofessional and dangerous behavior by several individual Agents. The investigation found no evidence that agents struck any person with horse reins. In keeping with the agency’s and the Department of Homeland Security’s commitment to transparency and accountability, and given significant interest from the workforce, Congress, and the public, CBP is releasing the Office of Professional Responsibility investigative report of this incident in its entirety on the Accountability and Transparency page of its website. with names redacted in order to protect individuals’ privacy. For the full report, click here.

CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility conducts its investigations with integrity and independence, free from outside influence. Its investigation of the horse patrol activity in Del Rio adhered to these standards. The investigation included more than 30 interviews with eyewitnesses, Agents involved directly and indirectly with the incident, U.S. Border Patrol leadership and CBP officials. Investigators also collected and reviewed all available video footage, photographic evidence from multiple angles, and documents related to the incident.

The investigative findings show that the agency failed to appropriately task, supervise, and exercise command and control over the Horse Patrol Units in Del Rio on September 19, 2021. Several Border Patrol Agents used force or the threat of force to attempt to drive migrants back into the Rio Grande River towards the U.S.-Mexico border, though there is no evidence that any migrants were forced to return to Mexico or denied entry to the United States. Additionally, the Office of Professional Responsibility found multiple instances in which Agents acted inappropriately during the incident, including one Border Patrol Agent who was found to have used denigrating and inappropriate language and to have maneuvered his horse unsafely near a child.

In response to the Office of Professional Responsibility’s findings, CBP leadership is taking a series of corrective actions to remedy the organizational and management issues identified in the report. These include changes to practices, training, and operational methods to address management failures that contributed to the incident, stricter limits on the use of the horse patrol, and strengthening leadership and agency accountability. Specific organizational corrective actions are identified below.

Separately, CBP initiated a Discipline Review Board to consider the individual conduct of certain Border Patrol Agents involved in this incident and has proposed disciplinary action for four agents consistent with CBP policy. The disciplinary process follows, but is distinct from, the fact-finding investigation and is conducted by a Discipline Review Board that is comprised of senior leaders appointed from across CBP and is independent of the Office of Professional Responsibility. That process is underway. The results of the discipline process will be made public following its completion, in a manner which protects the integrity of the process and the legal rights of those involved. In addition, CBP is conducting a review of its current disciplinary process and will make reforms as needed to ensure transparency, consistency, and accountability. 

The event under investigation occurred during an unprecedented surge in migration in one location by the international bridge in Del Rio on September 19, 2021.  Over the course of several days, U.S. Border Patrol Agents processed, screened, and vetted more than 30,000 migrants by the international bridge. Agents worked with officials from other federal agencies and non-profit organizations to provide food, hygiene supplies, COVID-19 testing, and medical care to address the humanitarian needs of those attempting to migrate, many of whom included families with young children. The Border Patrol faced extraordinary challenges in responding to the larger situation in Del Rio.

Set forth below is a more detailed overview of the investigative process, the investigative results, the corrective actions CBP is taking, and the separate disciplinary process now underway.

In response to the release of the investigation findings, CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus issued the following statement:

“The primary goal of this comprehensive investigation was to establish the facts of what happened in Del Rio. The release of this report is a critical step in order to hold our agency accountable for this incident and to help ensure we do better in the future.

“The report showed there were failures to make good decisions at multiple levels of the organization. Failures to maintain command and control over Horse Patrol Units, lack of appropriate policies and training, and the overall chaotic nature of the situation at Del Rio at the time contributed to the incident. Several agents engaged in unprofessional or dangerous behavior, including one instance in which an agent used denigrating and offensive language.

“We have already begun making changes to address agency shortcomings identified in the report, including revising the policies and procedures for utilization of horse patrol units, strengthening command and control during large-scale operations, and development of new trainings.

“Additionally, following the Department of Homeland Security-wide review on employee accountability and discipline announced on June 16, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will be reviewing its own discipline processes and policies. I commit to continuing to review the agency’s actions and making changes so we can do better in the future.

“As we focus on what went wrong, it’s important to note the vast majority of Border Patrol Agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel acted with honor and integrity and provided an unprecedented response to the situation in Del Rio—fulfilling operational and processing needs and going above and beyond to provide humanitarian aid and keep people safe. I am grateful for and proud of their work.”

 

Investigative Process

CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility is responsible for ensuring compliance with all agency-wide programs and policies relating to and investigating corruption, misconduct, or mismanagement, and for executing the agency’s internal security and integrity awareness programs. The Office of Professional Responsibility investigates allegations of employee corruption and serious misconduct within CBP. The Office of Professional Responsibility is an independent office within CBP that reports directly to the Commissioner; the Commissioner is not involved in the fact-finding investigative process.

The CBP Office of Professional Responsibility independently initiated the investigation of what occurred in Del Rio one day after video of the incident appearing in the media. The investigation, which was conducted by nearly 30 Office of Professional Responsibility Special Agents and Analysts, was thorough and free of outside influence. The investigation documented the facts and circumstances of the incident; assessed whether CBP personnel complied with all relevant policies, regulations, and laws; and identified factors which could mitigate or prevent future similar incidents. Consistent with the Office of Professional Responsibility’s investigative procedures, investigators first referred the investigation to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and subsequently referred to the U.S. Department of Justice to determine whether there was any potential criminal misconduct.

 

Timeline of Office of Professional Responsibility Investigation

  • On September 20, 2021, the Office of Professional Responsibility initiated this investigation after reviewing media reports depicting potential misconduct that took place the previous day.
  • The Office of Professional Responsibility immediately referred this investigation to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General in accordance with Department of Homeland Security policy.
  • The following day, Office of Inspector General notified the Office of Professional Responsibility that it would not investigate and referred the case back to the Office of Professional Responsibility.
  • Consistent with agency policy in the case of a potential or alleged criminal violation, on September 29, 2021, the Office of Professional Responsibility presented the matter to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas.
  • Almost six months later, the Office of Professional Responsibility received a prosecutorial declination (that is, the U.S. Attorney declined to prosecute the case) on March 11, 2022.
  • Following the U.S. Attorney’s decision not to prosecute the case criminally, the Office of Professional Responsibility completed its investigation of the Del Rio incident.
  • The investigation included over 30 interviews with eyewitnesses, Agents involved directly and indirectly with the incident, U.S. Border Patrol leadership, and CBP officials. Investigators also collected and reviewed all available video footage, photographic evidence from multiple angles, and documents related to the incident.
  • The Office of Professional Responsibility issued its final report to CBP leadership on April 11, 2022, and transferred case materials to the separate agency discipline process on April 19, 2022.
  • Consistent with agency policy, a Discipline Review Board was appointed, comprised of high-level career officials from across the agency; the disciplinary process is now underway.

Investigative Results

The investigation identified a number of organizational and management issues with respect to lack of command and control and insufficient policy guidance and training of Border Patrol Agents. The investigation also found that at least one Border Patrol Agent displayed dangerous behavior and used inappropriate and denigrating language and that several Agents used force or the threat of force to drive migrants back to the Rio Grande River, despite the fact that the migrants were well within the territorial boundary of the United States. The investigation concluded that there is no evidence that any migrants were struck by reins and no evidence that any migrants were forced to return to Mexico or denied entry into the United States.

The Office of Professional Responsibility investigation into the Del Rio Horse Patrol incident established the following findings:

  1. Lack of Command, Control, and Communications
  • Horse Patrol Unit personnel carried out an operation at the request of Texas Department of Public Safety that directly conflicted with U.S. Border Patrol operational objectives.
  • These agents conducted this operation with authorization from their supervisor, who did not obtain additional guidance from higher in the U.S. Border Patrol chain of command at the time of the request.
  • U.S. Border Patrol utilization of an unmoderated and unrecorded tactical radio frequency to manage the Del Rio incident contributed to command-and-control deficiencies by allowing operational planning without management by a dispatch and impeded the Office of Professional Responsibility’s ability to investigate this matter.
  1. Use of Horse Patrol Units
  • Senior Border Patrol leadership elected to deploy additional Horse Patrol Units without appropriate training, supervision, and coordination.
  • Personnel associated with the Horse Patrol program gave differing, inconsistent responses as to whether they were trained or qualified to engage in crowd control operations.
  • The horses involved in this incident were equipped with split reins which can be twirled by the rider to guide the horse’s movements. One Border Patrol Agent involved in this incident reported twirling these split reins as a distancing tactic. The Office of Professional Responsibility’s review of Horse Patrol Unit training documents did not reveal any specific guidance on twirling of reins for any purpose. The Office of Professional Responsibility interviewed numerous personnel associated with the Horse Patrol program who gave differing, inconsistent answers about whether twirling of split reins for any purpose was included in agency training programs.
  1. Individual Actions
  • One Border Patrol Agent acted in an unprofessional manner by yelling denigrating comments regarding a migrant’s national origin and sex, stating in part, “Hey! You use your women? This is why your country’s s***, you use your women for this.”
  • The same Border Patrol Agent acted in an unsafe manner by forcing his horse to narrowly maneuver around a small child on a slanted concrete ramp.
  • There is no evidence that Border Patrol Agents involved in this incident struck, intentionally or otherwise, any person with their reins.
  • Several mounted Border Patrol Agents used force or the threat of force to drive several migrants back into the Rio Grande River, despite the fact the migrants were well within the territorial boundary of the United States.
  • Despite the actions taken by the Border Patrol Agents during this incident, there was no evidence found during this investigation to suggest any migrant was ultimately forced to return to Mexico or denied entry into the United States.

 

Corrective Actions

In response to the Office of Professional Responsibility’s findings, CBP is pursuing the following corrective actions:

  1. Establishing clear practices to maintain incident command and control during large-scale operations.  Additionally, CBP continues to develop and refine detailed agency-wide and local level contingency response plans, coupled with recurring training exercise in incident management.
  2. Reviewing and revising the Border Patrol Horse Patrol standard operating procedures and associated training program, to include the following:
    1. Prohibiting the use of twirling or spinning the reins as a distancing or crowd control technique.
    2. Updating training and qualifications for any crowd control activities by Horse Patrol Units.
    3. Forbidding deployment of Horse Patrol Units for crowd control without appropriate training and qualification approved by the Commissioner.
  3. Reviewing and updating legal curriculum to ensure clear and consistent training on agent responsibilities and authorities at the border.
  4. Strengthening leadership and management accountability measures, including clarifying that incident commanders and leadership are required to assess field conditions, training, and potential risk before deploying resources to the field, including Horse Patrol Units.
  5. Investing significant resources in developing response capacity to mass migration events. The increased capacity will help ensure situations which contributed to these events are prevented in the future. 
  6. Standardizing deployment of additional communication, radio, and dispatch resources during interagency operations to limit the use of unmoderated radio networks. CBP is prioritizing deployment of Tactical Awareness Kits to Agents to increase recorded communications and operational situational awareness.
  7. Proposing individual disciplinary actions to address employee conduct. In addition, CBP will review the current disciplinary process and make needed reforms, to include those consistent with a recently concluded Department of Homeland Security review of its discipline processes.

 

Summary of Disciplinary Process

CBP is committed to a thorough investigation of the actions of its employees and making referrals for discipline if warranted, consistent with protections for the privacy and due process rights of the agents involved. The disciplinary process is underway, and proposed disciplinary actions are pre-decisional.
 

  • Consistent with agency policy, CBP convened a Discipline Review Board made up of senior leaders from across CBP to review the Office of Professional Responsibility’s report findings in order to propose specific disciplinary actions for individual agents. 
  • Discipline has been proposed in the cases of four agents.
  • CBP employees served with disciplinary proposals are afforded due process rights, including the opportunity to review materials relied upon in developing disciplinary proposals, and the right to provide additional or mitigating evidence for review.
  • Disciplinary proposals, along with the employees’ responses and any mitigating evidence, are then reviewed by a separate senior Deciding Official. The Deciding Official can decide to concur with or mitigate, that is reduce, the discipline proposed. He or she cannot increase the discipline above what is proposed.
  • Under the current disciplinary process, the Commissioner had no direct role in proposing or approving individual disciplinary actions.

 

Conclusion

The unprecedented situation in Del Rio in September 2021 presented the U.S. Border Patrol with challenges well beyond their traditional scope of work. In the face of these challenges, thousands of Border Patrol Agents and Department of Homeland Security personnel worked tirelessly for over a week to maintain safety and security while processing the individuals who had gathered under the Del Rio International Bridge. While addressing this situation, the agency failed to sufficiently manage all aspects of the incident response. Several Agents were found to have behaved in a manner not in keeping with the professional standards of conduct expected of federal law enforcement personnel. In those cases, disciplinary review processes are underway. CBP commits to sharing the results when appropriate, Agents’ privacy and due process rights.  

As a professional law enforcement agency, CBP is committed to learning from the incident in Del Rio and improving at all levels. CBP is initiating Agency corrective actions to address organizational shortcomings identified in this report, including strengthening incident command practices, improving leadership accountability, and updating policies and training governing the use of Horse Patrol Units. There is no room in the agency for discrimination or intolerance. CBP is dedicated to ensuring the fair and just treatment of all persons with whom the agency and its workforce interact.

  • Last Modified: July 8, 2022