Border Patrol Agents Who Blew Whistle on Suspicionless Stops Reinstated to Jobs

Two whistle-blowing Tucson sector Border Patrol agents got their jobs back last week thanks to efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union.

After Juan Curbelo and William Leafstone revealed the practice of "shotgunning" in the Border Patrol, in which vehicles were pulled over despite the lack of any legitimate reason to do so, they were stripped of their badges and given menial assignments.

Now, it does appear that Curbelo had personal reasons for loosening his lips: He and Leafstone testified about the unscrupulous practice at the trial of Curbelo's ex-wife, who had been found with marijuana during a trumped-up Border Patrol stop.

Click here to read the ACLU's original complaint.

Whatever the motive, the agents should have been commended for speaking up. Instead, they were punished for "divulging sensitive Border Patrol information." That's right -- an officially sanctioned by a law enforcement agency for complaining that agents weren't following the law.

Cops need reasonable suspicion to pull a vehicle over in a traffic stop, but "shotgunning" blows through that constitutionally based legal balancing weight. It's easy to imagine how such a practice might result in racial discrimination and the abuse of civil rights -- as happened, it seems, in the case of Curbelo's ex-wife. Compound that with the agents' punishment and it was a case tailor-made for the ACLU.

ACLU lawyers George Staff and Phoenix's own Dan Pochoda served as counsel and co-counsel in the agents' lawsuit againt the government. Pochoda, if you'll recall, has both his legal education and experience to guide him in cases of abuses of police power.

The reinstated agents probably won't get invited this year to the chief's holiday party. But the actions of agents Curbelo and Leafstone ought to be celebrated by the public, who will benefit from their bravery.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.