WASHINGTON — U.S. Customs and Border Protection removed its head of internal affairs on Monday and called for a review of procedures involving the use of force following a wave of shooting deaths of unarmed civilians and hundreds of complaints of abuse by armed agents.
James Tomscheck, who had run the internal affairs division since 2006, was responsible for background investigations for new agents, reviews of misconduct allegations and the detection of corruption in the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency. The agency includes both Border Patrol agents and the Customs officers who man crossing points into the United States.
Tomscheck had been credited with expanding and restructuring the office. But Obama administration officials grew concerned over his unit’s failure to complete investigations into scores of cases that had been brought to light by McClatchy and other news organizations, including allegations of sexual abuse and the use of excessive force by agents along the border.
The high profile firing comes less than two weeks after U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief who assumed his current post in March, called for greater transparency in the agency and released a previously secret report that documented agents’ widespread misuse of fire arms. The dismissal seemed to signal a tougher line on abuse by agents along the border.
Mark Morgan, the deputy assistant director of inspections at the FBI, will replace Tomscheck on an interim basis, and the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general will undertake an investigation into abuse allegations, Public Affairs Deputy Assistant Commissioner Chris O’Neil said in a statement.
“As he has said repeatedly, Commissioner Kerlikowske is committed to integrity and transparency, and improving the use of the force review process,” the statement said.
A McClatchy investigation earlier this year found that at least 21 civilians have been fatally shot by Border Patrol agents in the past four years, including a 16-year-old who was shot 10 times from behind as he walked along a street on the Mexican side of the border fence that separates Nogales, Arizona, from Nogales, Mexico. None of the agents involved in the shootings are known to have been disciplined, according to the McClatchy investigation.
Tomscheck did not respond to a request for comment.
A report last month by the American Immigration Council found that 97 percent of abuse complaints lodged against Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers resulted in no disciplinary action once an investigation had been completed. Those included a complaint from a pregnant woman in El Paso, Texas, that she had miscarried after a Border Patrol agent kicked her in the stomach.
The study also found that hundreds of complaints were still under investigation years after they’d been made, including a nearly 5-year-old allegation of forced sexual intercourse lodged July 30, 2009, against a Border Patrol agent in El Centro, Calif.
Late last month, Kerlikowske issued a revised handbook on when its agents may use lethal force that he said would address the need for more transparency at his agency to bring about “better public trust.”
But he did not say whether his office would release the names of agents or officers involved in fatal shootings.