WASHINGTON (AP) — The Border Patrol sector in Laredo, Texas — where two agents were accused this year of multiple murders in separate cases — disciplined employees more on average over two years than any other major sector, according to data released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Friday.
The findings were part of a comprehensive look at misconduct at the 60,000-employee law enforcement agency that includes the Border Patrol. The data showed overall there was a decline in substantiated complaints of misconduct and fewer arrests of agents between the budget years 2016 and 2017.
“The disciplinary reports show that the vast majority of CBP agents and officers exemplify our core values, perform their duties with integrity, and that every employee is accountable to upholding the high standards of professional conduct both on and off-duty,” said Melvin Harris, deputy assistant commissioner of human resources management at CBP.
The data do not include 2018. But they showed the Laredo sector, one of the nation’s largest, was experiencing disciplinary issues even before the high-profile cases.
According to the reports, there were 435 instances where an agent in Laredo was dismissed, suspended, demoted or given another form of discipline in the 2016 and 2017 budget years.
The average rate of disciplinary actions in Laredo was 11.3 per 100 employees in the 2016 fiscal year and rose to 13 per 100 employees in 2017. In both years, Laredo was above the national average for those years, which was 8.1 and 7.4, respectively.
Laredo had the second-highest rate of any sector in 2016, behind only Miami, a comparatively small sector with no land border to patrol.
It had the highest rate of all sectors in 2017. It had almost the same number of disciplinary incidents that year as the neighboring Rio Grande Valley sector, which is the nation’s busiest corridor for unauthorized crossings and has nearly twice as many employees.
Last month, Laredo agent Juan David Ortiz was arrested and accused of targeting women believed to be prostitutes in what prosecutors say is the work of a serial killer. He has been accused of killing four women, and prosecutors say he likely used his service weapon in the crimes. Ortiz has not yet been indicted and his attorney didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
And Ronald Anthony Burgos-Aviles, another supervisory agent, was arrested in April and charged with capital murder on allegations that he killed a 27-year-old woman with whom he was romantically involved, as well as their 1-year-old son. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Burgos-Aviles pleaded not guilty.
Border Patrol officials have said the suspects were outliers who do not represent the agency or the sector.
The same sector also drew attention in May after the Border Patrol changed its story about why an agent shot and killed a 19-year-old Guatemalan woman, Claudia Gomez Gonzalez, who had crossed the border near Laredo. Officials initially claimed the agent had been attacked “by multiple subjects using blunt objects,” only to revise that statement two days later and remove the claim.
Customs and Border Protection is the largest U.S. law enforcement agency and is tasked with enforcing immigration and trade laws. The largest components are the Border Patrol, whose agents arrest people caught crossing the border illegally between ports of entry, and the Office of Field Operations, which manages the ports.
The data released Friday are part of an overall effort by Customs and Border Protection to increase transparency and hold employees more accountable for misconduct following criticism over what some lawmakers and reform advocates said was a lack of oversight of agents and a culture that condoned abuse and misconduct.
About 155 employees were removed during 2016 and 2017 over misconduct claims. Scores more retired. The reports do not specify what claims prompted the removals.
About 250 employees were arrested on criminal charges during the budget year 2016 and 245 in 2017, for crimes including corruption, drugs and alcohol and sexual misconduct. Those numbers declined from 336 during 2012.
Despite the decline, the arrests are a continued concern for the department, which is working to address the problem, according to the reports.
Officers and agents are using deadly force less, and non-lethal force, like pepper spray, is also down dramatically. Officials say it’s due in part to revamped training on how and when to use force.
Merchant reported from Houston. AP data journalist Larry Fenn in New York contributed to this report.