Formal disciplinary action is expected against two Border Patrol agents who forcibly returned a Soviet sailor to his ship last month, federal officials said yesterday.
The Justice Department is reviewing a report of more than 100 pages on the incident prepared by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, parent agency for the Border Patrol. Officials said INS Commissioner Alan C. Nelson and Attorney General Edwin Meese III will decide on the disciplinary action, which could range from a verbal reprimand to firing.
Nelson has said previously that the agents violated INS policy when they returned Miroslav Medvid to the Soviet freighter Marshal Konev. Meese also is expected to decide whether to change INS rules for dealing with potential defectors.
In an apparent defection attempt, Medvid jumped into the Mississippi River near New Orleans Oct. 24. Irene Padoch, a contract interpreter for the INS, interviewed Medvid by telephone that night and says she told the Border Patrol agents that he was asking for political asylum. But Medvid was returned to the Soviet freighter.
On Oct. 28, Medvid was taken from the ship and interviewed by State Department officials, but he then insisted that he wanted to return to his parents in the Soviet Union, officials said.
In related action, the House yesterday approved, 404 to 3, a nonbinding resolution stating that President Reagan should have protected Medvid's rights, including assuring him an additional interview on U.S. soil in an atmosphere free of intimidation.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) criticized the administration's handling of the case and suggested that Medvid's return to the ship may have been the result of a "secret agreement" between the United States and the Soviet Union.
"The State Department clearly decided it's more important to appease the Soviet Union than to allow a young man an unfettered chance for freedom," said Helms, chairman of the Agriculture Committee. On Saturday the administration allowed the ship to leave U.S. waters rather than honor a subpoena for Medvid by Helms' committee.
At the hearing where Medvid was to have appeared, Helms asked, "Why was the U.S. government so protective of the Soviets at this time? Is there a secret agreement that we will send defectors back?"
Charles Redman, a State Department spokesman, declined to comment directly on Helms' charges. But Redman said that in dealing with sailors and others who want asylum in the United States, "we are guided by the law, but also by strong moral convictions."
He said that in Medvid's case, government officials did "everything in our power" to give the crewman "a chance to express his choice in a nonthreatening environment."
Helms' committee took testimony from Dr. William E. O'Malley, a neuropsychiatrist from Waterford, Va., who said the unnamed government doctors who examined Medvid were guilty of "criminal negligence" for allowing Medvid to be returned to the ship without further examination.
O'Malley said his review of records of a psychiatric and medical examination of Medvid, performed while he was in U.S. custody, led him to conclude that Medvid had been "tortured" and given "massively potent" tranquilizing drugs after he had been returned the first time to the Marshal Konev.
"I draw the final and inescapable conclusion that Medvid desperately wished to stay in the United States, but as a result of threats, maltreatment with potent neuroleptics, and probably torture, he bowed to the wishes of the Soviets that he return with them," he said