Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Racial Justice | Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

CBP Provided Munitions San Diego Sheriff's Department Fired At Protesters

Cover image for podcast episode

As protests were staged around San Diego County last spring, the Sheriff's Department asked Customs and Border Protection for assistance, including “less lethal munitions,” “crowd control,” and “airborne” support.

Speaker 1: 00:01 During protests in San Diego in may and June, we know that law enforcement requested the aid of national guard troops who were stationed briefly in the County. But what we didn't know was that during those protests over police brutality, San Diego County Sheriff's department and other local agencies were requesting crowd control munitions from a federal agency in response to questions from Senator Kamala Harris, customs and border protection says San Diego asked for Leslie Ethel munitions, airborne support and crowd control. Some of which were provided the Sheriff's department told KPBS that CBP did provide pepper balls and chemical agents, but says no border patrol personnel were used for crowd control. Joining me with more is KPBS reporter, max Rivlin, Nadler, and max. Welcome. Hi, what did the San Diego Sheriff's department tell you about why it contacted customs and border protection for help?

Speaker 2: 01:01 They told me yesterday that they reached out to customs and border protection because they were out of resources during these protests in late may and early June. So they had run out of things like pepper balls and tear gas, and we're interested in kind of other ways of supplementing their own forces. So if the Sheriff's department was dealing with crowd control, the CBP agents could be doing other tasks that would normally be done by the sheriff. So looking over the side of a protest or blocking roadways or things like that,

Speaker 1: 01:32 What do they say? They receive Trump from CBP and how do they use

Speaker 2: 01:36 So the munitions that they requested munitions and the Sheriff's CA the County Sheriff's department confirmed that what they received were these pepper balls that were fired at protesters, a pastor by myself or porters. Uh, also these were fired at as well as, uh, chemical agents that CBP provided. Uh, the Sheriff's department did say that the chemical agents, which are tier desk was not up to standards that the Sheriff's department would use, so they didn't use it.

Speaker 1: 02:05 I've seen border patrol agents turn up at protests in Portland and Seattle reportedly making arrests. There were the agents here involved in crowd control and arrests of protests.

Speaker 2: 02:17 They were not, uh, there were no arrests by CVP that, uh, their CVP, um, announced, uh, none of the individuals, uh, showed up in federal court. Uh, and the Sheriff's department said that only they were the ones making the arrest. So they were involved in crowd control. Uh, they were at the County administration building during a protest an early June. They were shown on social media, posing above a trampled vigil for George Floyd and a social media post that was then arrested. So they weren't doing any actual arrest themselves. They were just, um, there to, um, basically provide support block roadways and show kind of a show of strength and support. Now in the letter that

Speaker 1: 03:00 Senator Harris requested from CBP, the agency said that other San Diego law enforcement agencies requested help from that agency during the protests. What have you been able to find out about that?

Speaker 2: 03:13 So there were two other agencies in San Diego that CBP said requested a, that was the San Diego police department and the San Diego Harbor police, the port of San Diego Harbor police. The police department said, no, we never requested help from, uh, customs and border protection. And that might've been done just by the Sheriff's department on our behalf, but we never requested, and we never worked with them during these protests. The Harbor police told me that yes, they did put in a request, but the request was basically for agents to come to areas at the airport where they were already stationed to a backup in case of any disturbances there, they said they never worked together with the border patrol agents and that ultimately they weren't really utilized.

Speaker 1: 03:57 There's a relatively new California law SB 54, which is aimed at removing California law enforcement from much of their cooperation with CVP were the requests of San Diego law enforcement during the protests in violation of SB 54.

Speaker 2: 04:12 So SB 54 is really looking at specifically how to get local law enforcement outs out of federal immigration enforcement. So it's moving in that direction. What it doesn't really cover is how much federal immigration enforcement and federal law enforcement could be involved in local policing. And I think that's something that people are really interested in looking at moving forward, because border patrol specifically in San Diego has a long history of getting involved through joint task forces and other means and local policing efforts. So SB 54 was super focused on immigration and specifically handing somebody over. Who's been arrested by local police and giving them to federal immigration enforcement for possible deportation. So while this didn't violate the spirit of SB 54, um, in any way, it definitely shows kind of a blind spot that exists for, for disentangling, these two agencies,

Speaker 1: 05:06 But doesn't the involvement of customs and border protection in internal American protests, whether here or in Portland violate or overreach their mission.

Speaker 2: 05:16 Yeah, that's definitely a subject of debate. The department of Homeland security's own definition, um, department of Homeland security of which CBP is a part, uh, its own definition of its rather expansive powers and the actual powers that are granted to it, uh, by Congress are often in conflict and, and it takes actual disclosure lawsuits, um, to get anywhere near those two, basically the responsibilities given to them and those that they consider to be their responsibilities to align at all. So DHS has a long history of using those lack of imposed limits to reach further and further into the interior and to expand its reach ever further. And it takes a lot of effort to get them to reign in. You've got to remember, DHS is a relatively young agency. It doesn't have the institutional memory that maybe the FBI does or the, you know, larger DOJ.

Speaker 2: 06:08 Um, it's still trying to figure out its role and into that kind of gap, it's able to expand its reach ever further. Uh, Tom Wong, a professor at UCFC, who I spoke with has been studying the interactions between local law enforcement and customs and border protection, as well as immigration and customs enforcement for some time. Here's what he had to say. I think this is gray area for what local law enforcement officials here in San Diego and elsewhere in California may or may not be able to do when it comes to reaching out to customs and border protection. Uh, for example, when there's a protest

Speaker 1: 06:43 Now, the Portland city council and acted laws to stop local law enforcement there from interacting with customs and border protection agents at their protests. And now Oregon's governor has announced that CVP and ice agents deployed for the protests are leaving this state. Could the California state legislature stop border patrol in interference in local protests by enacting new laws?

Speaker 2: 07:10 Yeah, I think California right now is really emboldened by a decision by the Supreme court, not to hear further Trump administration challenges to its sanctuary laws. This would be SB 54 and a few other laws that help disentangle local law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement. Um, I think this is something that legislators are definitely interested at looking into and feel as if they have now the backing of the courts. Um, that being said, you know, especially in a place like San Diego, CBP is such a part of the local law enforcement infrastructure. If you look at the requests that were made to CBP during these protests, the two most law enforcement agencies that made requests were, um, Detroit and San Diego. And because those are both, you know, we don't think of Detroit often as a border city, but it most definitely is because these local law enforcement agencies have such a deep relationship to CBP in both areas. It's who they reach out to when they need assistance or have a problem. So disentangling, these two groups is going to be a really large task moving forward. So Steve legislators, if they want to look into that are going to have to draw some really bright lines over what is allowed and what isn't allowed moving forward, especially when it comes to serious first amendment considerations like protests.

Speaker 1: 08:27 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Revlin Nadler and max. Thank you. Thank you.

KPBS Midday Edition Segments podcast branding

KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.