Speaking to Iowa TV station KCCI about the incident, Boy Scout Troop 111 Leader Jim Fox said a single photograph from one of the troop members prompted Border Protection to detain the entire group of travelers, which included scouts, troop leaders, and volunteers. They took the Scout’s camera and began searching the group’s luggage, which is where things went from bad to worse, Fox said.
As one of the troop members attempted to help the officers continue their search by removing luggage from the roof of a van, something apparently went wrong. Recounting the incident, Fox told KCCI that the unnamed Scout “hears a snap of a holster, turns around, and here’s this agent, both hands on a loaded pistol, pointing at the young man’s head.” After about four hours, he said, the agents allowed the group to continue into Alaska.
But in a written statement Wednesday, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said it had yet to find evidence that the officer drew his gun.
“CBP’s review of this group’s inspection, including video footage review, indicates that our officer did not un-holster or handle his weapon as stated in the allegation,” the statement said. “The review revealed nothing out of the ordinary. We have reached out to the Boy Scout troop for additional information in reference to the allegation. The video footage has been referred to CBP Internal Affairs for further review.”
Charles Vonderheid with the Mid-Iowa Council Boy Scouts of America didn’t exactly have harsh words for the agency. He told KCCI that “we want to make sure they follow the rules,” adding: “A Scout is a good citizen. It would be a great lesson in civics for that young man and that troop.”
The issue of photographing officers at the borders is a contentious one. The ACLU argues that agency policies banning the photography of federal agents and officers doing their jobs at border crossings are unconstitutional. In fact, the ACLU of San Diego is suing the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency over two incidents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In one case, an environmental activist was attempting to photograph the border crossing for a Powerpoint presentation on border pollution. The other was a human rights activist documenting alleged rights abuses at the crossing. Both of them describe an aggressive response from officers as they took pictures on a public sidewalk on the American side of the border.
Speaking to The Post, ACLU San Diego senior staff attorney Sean Riordan said the alleged incident at the Alaska border “is consistent with those our plaintiffs had.” He added that each port of entry tends to impose its own version of the photography ban. But from the ACLU’s perspective, he said, the right to take photographs of officers at work “within public view shouldn’t, as far as were concerned, be controversial.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly referred to the officer as a Border Patrol agent. He is a Customs and Border Protection officer.