The Washington Post

Troop leader says Border Protection officer pointed gun at Boy Scout’s head; agency is investigating

The patch of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. (Denis Poroy/AP)

According to the leader of an Iowa Boy Scout troop, a series of unfortunate events ended with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer drawing his gun on one of the Scouts as the group attempted to cross into Alaska from Canada for a trip. The initial offense? One Boy Scout allegedly took a photograph of an officer.

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.

Abby Ohlheiser is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Making family dinnertime happen
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
Play Videos
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Learn to make this twice-baked cookie
How to prevent 'e-barrassment'
Play Videos
Syrian refugee: 'I’m committed to the power of music'
The art of tortilla-making
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Circus nuns: These sisters are no act
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
Cool off with sno-balls, a New Orleans treat
Next Story
Mark Berman · July 23, 2014

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.