"Secret Squirrel Operation" by ICE Nets Border Patrol Agent, Says Lawsuit; Agent Claims He was Traumatized by Arrest

A Border Patrol agent is suing the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, claiming he was traumatized after being stopped by ICE agents on a dark, rural road in southern Arizona and held at gunpoint.

Jess Cabe, who works out of the Border Patrol's Nogales Station, filed the lawsuit on September 4 in the U.S. District Court of Arizona against "three unknown named agents" of ICE.

A corresponding summons was sent to ICE in Tucson, says Cabe's Tucson attorney, David Monroe Quantz. It may sound odd to serve a summons to unknown agents, but a similar claim led to a 1971 Supreme Court decision that citizens can force the feds to pay cold cash when their Fourth Amendment rights are violated.

Cabe's lawsuit alleges assault, false imprisonment, illegal search of his car, negligence and causing emotional distress. He wants an unspecified amount of damages.

He claims he was driving to work on a rural road near Arivaca at about 10:45 p.m. on September 6, 2007, dressed in his Border Patrol uniform, when he was jumped by the ICE agents.

The agents drove a minivan with a flashing blue light in the back window and a pickup truck, which "pinched" his own vehicle to a stop. According to the lawsuit, which we accessed on the PACER system (though we tip our hat to, which first reported it):

When all three vehicles came to a stop, two men exited the minivan, one from each side of the vehicle. The men exited the vehicle and had their weapons drawn and trained on Cabe's head. These two men approached Cabe's vehicle from opposite sides of his vehicle.

Cabe was able to note that the man on the left side of the vehicle had a tactical light attached to his weapon, which light illuminated Mr. Cabe, which indicated to Cabe that the men were with an official law enforcement agency.

As the two men approached from the front of the vehicle, a third man exited the pickup truck, which was behind Cabe's car. The third man approached Cabe, also with his gun drawn and trained on Cabe.

Cabe was able to notice that none of the three men were in any official uniform. All three men were all dressed in solid black body armor. One of the men had a small police patch; the man who approached from the pickup truck had a small I.C.E. patch.

One of the men yelled to his compadres, "La Migra," in apparent reference to Cabe. Then they ordered the Batrol Agent to get out and open his trunk. The men searched the trunk and the inside of Cabe's car, all while keeping him trained in the sights of their guns. Cabe was "in fear for his life, and believed that he was being robbed by these three individuals."

The men allowed Cabe to leave. Once the Border Patrol agent arrived at work, he told his supervisor what had happened:

Cabe was informed that I.C.E. agents were working in the general area on a covert operation. Cabe believes that the operation is referred to as a "secret squirrel operation," and that the agents were engaged in that operation.

As a result of the incident, Cabe has suffered emotional and psychological injuries, including a diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

ICE headquarters in Phoenix had no immediate comment on the lawsuit or "secret squirrel" operations. The agency has never acknowledged its role in what happened that night, Quantz says.

Then again, maybe it wasn't really ICE. We asked Quantz whether Cabe had any evidence to back up his claim. The former Pima County prosecutor says he'll save that for the courtroom.

He adds that Cabe has "plenty" to back up his assertion of psychological damage.

"He did seek immediate attention and has been working on that ever since," Quantz says.

Cabe's no tenderfoot, either. He's an instructor at the Border Patrol's school for weapons training, Quantz says.

Another odd thing about this suit is that the Border Patrol isn't involved in it. Why don't they back up their agent?

As it stands now, the Border Patrol looks like it's hiding its nuts from the secret squirrels.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.