Border Patrol Agent Pleads Guilty to Hitting Man in Face

ImageA Customs and Border Patrol vehicle in Imperial County, Calif., in July 2018. A man taken into custody near the border fence in February was hit in the face by a Border Patrol agent who has since resigned.
CreditMatt York/Associated Press

A Border Patrol agent has pleaded guilty to striking a man who tried to jump over a border fence in Southern California, a rare finding of criminal culpability for an agency frequently criticized for its treatment of migrants.

The agent, Jason McGilvray, hit the man in the face after he was taken into custody in Imperial County, Calif., on Feb. 16, according to court documents filed last week.

Mr. McGilvray was sentenced to one year of probation after pleading guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law, a misdemeanor. He also resigned from the Border Patrol and agreed not to apply for a position to be a federal law enforcement officer in the future. Mr. McGilvray had been with the Border Patrol since 2006, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Few details were available Wednesday about the encounter between Mr. McGilvray, who was stationed in Calexico, Calif., and the man, identified in court documents only as “B.S.S.” It’s not clear if the man was injured or what happened to him after he was taken into custody.

Neither Mr. McGilvray nor his lawyer immediately responded to a request for comment Wednesday evening.

Ryan J. Scudder, the acting chief patrol agent of the agency’s El Centro sector in Southern California, said in an emailed statement that the agency was “satisfied to see the criminal justice system move quickly to bring this case to a conclusion.”

“McGilvray’s actions are not in keeping with the high standards of the U.S. Border Patrol and we remain committed to holding accountable anyone who violates the public’s trust in law enforcement officials,” Mr. Scudder said in the statement.

Immigration officials referred further questions about the case to the Justice Department, which declined to comment on Wednesday evening.

Mr. McGilvray’s guilty plea came just weeks after Matthew Bowen, a former Border Patrol agent stationed in Nogales, Ariz., also pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor charge. Mr. Bowen had admitted that he intentionally struck a Guatemalan migrant with his truck near the border in 2017.

That case drew national attention after a court filing revealed a series of racist and derogatory text messages exchanged between Mr. Bowen and other Border Patrol agents, one of which referred to immigrants as “subhuman” and “mindless murdering savages.”

Together, the two criminal prosecutions were a “positive step,” said Vicki Gaubeca, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, which has called for greater accountability of Border Patrol agents.

Still, she said such criminal prosecutions were rare.

“Why is that approach not taken in all of the cases?” Ms. Gaubeca said. “Some of the cases we’ve heard have been pretty egregious.”

A 2017 report from the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit, said that in 96 percent of the 1,255 cases of alleged misconduct filed between January 2012 and October 2015 in which a formal decision was made, that the outcome was “no action.” That report did not track criminal prosecutions.

“It’s a rare occurrence when someone is actually held accountable for an action or a complaint alleged against them,” said Walter Ewing, editor and writer at the American Immigration Council and one of the authors of the report.

Mr. Ewing said it was too early to tell whether the two prosecutions signaled a change in that approach.

A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said the agency “treats those in our custody with dignity and respect and provides multiple avenues to report any allegations of misconduct.”

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