from the the-question-that-has-no-real-answer dept
Jessica Cooke, a New York native who had recently applied for a position with Customs and Border Protection, asked the only question that needed to be asked after being tased by CBP agents for asserting her rights: "What the fuck is wrong with you?!?"
Cooke was driving from Norfolk to her boyfriend's house in Ogdensburg, the northern border of which is the St. Lawrence River. If you cross the river, you are in Canada, but Cooke was not crossing the river. She nevertheless became subject to the arbitrary orders of CBP agents by driving through one of the country's many internal immigration checkpoints, which can be located anywhere within 100 miles of the border (a zone that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population). For some mysterious reason, she was instructed to pull into a secondary inspection area, where she used her cellphone to record a five-minute video of the stop (below). [Language possibly NSFW]
These CBP agents -- like too many other law enforcement officers -- had no idea how to react when their authority was challenged. They only saw one route to take: escalation.
Cooke knew the CBP agents needed something in the way of reasonable suspicion to continue to detain her. But they had nothing. The only thing offered in the way of explanation as they ordered her to return to her detained vehicle was that she appeared "nervous" during her prior interaction with the female CBP agent. This threadbare assertion of "reasonable suspicion" is law enforcement's blank check -- one it writes itself and cashes with impunity.
The CBP supervisor then stated he'd be bringing in a drug dog to search her vehicle -- another violation of Cooke's rights. The Supreme Court very recently ruled that law enforcement cannot unnecessarily prolong routine stops in order to perform additional searches unrelated to the stop's objective.
If the purpose of CBP is to secure borders and regulate immigration, then this stop had very little to do with the agency's objectives. Cooke is an American citizen and had not crossed a border. If the CBP's objective is to do whatever it wants within x number of miles of the border, then it's apparently free to perform suspicionless searches. In this case, the CBP was operating in drug enforcement mode, but even so, it still hadn't offered anything more than Cooke's alleged "nervousness" to justify the search and detainment. Additionally, the CBP's decision to bring in a drug dog raised the bar for justification.
While nervousness alone might be deemed enough for reasonable suspicion, SUNY Buffalo immigration law professor Rick Su told the local NPR station, "it is not sufficient" to justify a vehicle search, which requires probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a crime.Things escalated when Cooke refused to return to her vehicle and wait passively for the CBP to perform its questionable search. Cooke told the officers she would leave if the search wasn't performed within 20 minutes. The supervisor told her she could leave, but her car couldn't and if she tried, spike strips would be deployed.
Shortly thereafter, this exchange occurred:
CBP agent: I'm going to tell you one more time, and then I'm going to move you.Cue said "touching," followed almost immediately by screams of pain and swearing as Cooke is tased. Before the recording end, you can hear the CBP agent claiming Cooke "assaulted a federal officer." (As one does…)
Cooke: If you touch me, I will sue your ass. Do you understand me?
CBP agent: Go for it.
Cooke: Touch me then.
CBP agent: Move over there.
Cooke: Go ahead. Touch me.
CBP agent: I'm telling you to move over there.
And for all the hassle, the CBP came up with nothing.
During an exterior inspection of her vehicle by the unit, nothing was found, Ms. Cooke said. She said agents then opened the car doors, got her keys and opened the trunk.There will always be those who feel citizens who refuse to meet law enforcement instructions with anything but meek obedience deserve whatever happens to them. "It's tough being in law enforcement," they claim. And it is. But considering the job contains the constant threat of injury or death, a little mouthiness or stubbornness shouldn't be met with this level of force.
Again, nothing was found, Ms. Cooke said, adding that agents did a second search of the vehicle with the K-9 unit, but found nothing.
Things are slowly changing, though. Law enforcement officers can no longer rely on the belief that citizens know less about their rights than they do. They will need to do more to justify searches and seizures in the future, instead of just making vague claims about perceived nervousness. Otherwise, their unconstitutional search attempts are either going to rely heavily on ensuring compliance through inapproriate use of force, or head to the other end of the spectrum, where they won't even get a chance to take a look. [Language possibly NSFW]