Civil Liberties

Sure We Hassled Boy Scouts at the Border, But You Can't Prove We Pulled a Gun, Says DHS


Boy Scout
Boy Scouts of America

In July, members of an Iowa Boy Scout troop returning from an extended trip complained that they were searched, threatened, and had a gun drawn on them by Customs and Border Protection Officers while crossing from Canada into Alaska. This was all precipitated, said Scoutmaster Jim Fox as well as the scouts, when one of the group took an apparently forbidden photograph of the port of entry. They said the officers immediately flipped out, threatened fines and imprisonment—and things went downhill from there.

But wait! It wasn't all that bad, insists the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General. Sure, CBP officers forced a scout to delete photos of the border crossing. But they never specifically threatened fines or imprisonment! Honest! And yes, they tossed the kid's luggage after spotting an image of a marijuana bud on the phone while confirming the deletion. And of course they confined other members of the group in their vehicles under threat of "being detained." But claims that an officer actually drew his gun are "unsubstantiated."

It's an interesting insight into what government officials think is just A-OK. Though even they are still apparently a bit squeamish about pulling guns on Boy Scouts.

According to the Inspector General's investigation:

At 8:50 p.m., July 7, 2014, a group of Boy Scouts and their adult chaperones arrived at the Alcan POE in four vehicles.

During the primary inspection process, a Boy Scout (Boy Scout 2) took pictures of the POE. A CBPO (CBPO 2), CBP, Alcan, Alaska, instructed Boy Scout 2 to delete the pictures and to show him that the photos were deleted. After Boy Scout 2 deleted the last photograph, CBPO 2 saw another photograph of a hand holding what appeared to be marijuana. Boy Scout 2 admitted that it was his hand in the photograph holding a marijuana bud /flower. CBPO 2 subsequently searched the vehicle while the occupants waited in the POE office and the rest of the group waited in their respective vehicles. During the search, CBPO 2 instructed thedrivers and occupants of the other three vehicles to remain in their vehicles, and that the failure to do so would result in being detained.

Need we point out that "Nothing of evidentiary value was found in the search of the vehicle or bag."

It was during the search, say two of the scouts, that an officer pointed a gun at one of the scouts, who was trying to retrieve a bag from the top of a vehicle so the border guards could paw through it.

Uh uh, says the report. "A review of the POE security video gave no indication that a CBPO withdrew a firearm during the encounter." The officers also deny threatening "a fine and jail time" for photographing the port of entry, even if all the fun started when they forced a kid to delete photos from his phone. The alleged penalties were set at $10,000 per photo, and 10 years in prison (not mentioned in the report) which seem like awfully specific numbers for scouts and their guardians to pull out of the air.

Contrary to American Civil Liberties Union guidance, the report insists that photographing the port of entry, even though it's a public place in plain view, is rightfully prohibited according to General Services Administration rules once you pass a sign saying, "NOTICE NO PHOTOGRAPHY BEYOND THIS POINT." Using a telephoto lens from the other side of that sign is, no doubt, just swell.

The group was held at the crossing for 49 minutes, according to the report, over a photograph of a public place and an accidentally discovered picture of a plant. And it was all good.