Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Man deserves apology after nightmarish ordeal

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It's one of those unwritten rules everyone observes instinctively flying out of Richardson International Airport for points south, or taking a weekend driving trip to Grand Forks.

You don't mess around with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Even if they mess with you.

And you certainly don't go asking for an apology.

But most of us aren't like the 23-year-old Winnipeg man who, along with his 18-year-old pal, got pulled over by a posse of gun-pointing, sunglasses-wearing Border Patrol and Grand Forks police officers more than half an hour after crossing the Pembina port of entry. You might remember the short story in the Free Press from a couple of weeks back.

"Manitoban arrested by mistake in Grand Forks," the headline read.

It quoted a Grand Forks sector Border Patrol officer as saying the man had the same name as an alias used by a suspect wanted in North Carolina, which is a long way from North Dakota. But after being fingerprinted and photographed, the story reported, the man was quickly cleared.

Asked if the man was angry, the Border Patrol officer replied:

"I don't know. But I would be."

Knowing what I know now, the officer's answer suggests he may have known more than he could comfortably share. I know more now because last week the man who was wrongfully arrested contacted me via email, where it became evident he wasn't angry, but he was traumatized.

"I do understand that the cops are doing their jobs, but I think my friend and I deserve an apology from them," he wrote.

All they got after the incident was a "Thank you for your co-operation."

"The horror of guns pointed at me and being handcuffed is just immense."

Later, when we spoke on the phone, K.B. -- as he asked me to refer to him -- said he's been having nightmares since the incident. But, aside from being traumatized, there was something else that still troubled him.

K.B. said he had already been fingerprinted and photographed at the border that morning because he carries a Philippines passport, which means he needs a special document for entry into the U.S. So if U.S. Customs already had his fingerprints and photograph, why did their brother Border Patrol agency have to fingerprint and photograph K.B. again in the course of arresting and clearing him way down the road in Grand Forks? Where's the co-ordination and communication?

Border Patrol and customs may have different chains of command and different shirt colours, but they're supposed to be playing on the same Homeland Security team.

Or so one would expect.

But when I contacted the Border Patrol in Grand Forks looking for an answer, they pointed me to customs at the Pembina port of entry. And when I contacted customs they pointed me back to the Border Patrol.

Why? Well, maybe this will explain it. It turns out U.S. Customs at Pembina had already checked K.B.'s name against the wanted man's alias at the border. Cleared him. And declared him good to go to Grand Forks.

"We were able to verify with 100 per cent certainty that he was not the suspect," said U.S. Customs spokesman Brian King. "There wasn't a mistake made by us at the border."

K.B. was surprised when I told him.

"I didn't know that they had cleared me right there at the border. If they cleared me, why did they have to do that?"

The answer came from Kris Grogan, a Detroit-based spokesman for the Border Patrol. He said between the time K.B. was cleared at the border and arrested outside Grand Forks, a police agency in North Carolina had seen his name flagged on a computer and contacted the Border Patrol in North Dakota requesting they check him out.

Of course, if the Border Patrol had checked with customs, or a computer system they should all have access to, there would have been no need for all of this pointing guns first and asking questions later.

You can see why the Border Patrol officer would have been angry if he'd been the one pulled over, and why K.B. deserves an apology. But U.S. Customs and Border Protection also needs to review the incident and learn something from it because people can get killed when guns are pointed.

And everyone needs boundaries. Especially an agency with extreme powers, and Border Patrol officers with weapons.

Now, if you'd please excuse me.

I've got someone holding on line two with another request.

They want me to spit into the wind, pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger, and give Superman's cape a tug while I'm at it.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 28, 2012 B1

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