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Customs and Border Protection Trampled Agents'' Rights - Plano, Texas

An administrative judge has ruled that supervisors with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security discriminated against their Hispanic agents who use dogs to search vehicles for contraband at the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville.

According to court hearing transcripts obtained by The Paper of South Texas, the four Hispanic agents, employed by Homeland Security''s Customs and Border Protection, filed complaints claiming they were passed over for promotion in favor of an Anglo agent who wasn''t qualified to fill the position.

The four agents have been identified as Jaime Gonzales, Anastacio Armijo, Eliut Torres and Armando Davalos. The Anglo agent is Lonnie Turnbough.
After hearing testimony from both sides, Katye Duderstadt, an administrative judge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in San Antonio, ruled last summer in favor of the Hispanic agents and their attorney, Bobby Garcia of McAllen.

The agents claimed that supervisors manipulated the selection process to ensure that an Anglo was selected for the position.

And while the agents may have won their case, they each testified that they fear their careers will forever be in jeopardy for having filed the complaints.

Garcia claims that despite the fact that the Agency lost its case, it remains defiant and has not fulfilled all the remedies ordered by Judge Duderstadt.
When contacted by The Paper for an official comment, public relations personnel at Customs failed to respond. Supervisors didn''t return calls either.

From the Beginning

The case began in May, when Barry Johnston, a chief of Customs and Border Protection at the Brownsville port of entry, released an announcement inviting interested CBP dog handlers to apply for a temporary, 90-day K-9 training position.
The temporary position is coveted among CBP dog handlers because it offers an opportunity to build their resumes and increases their chances of promoting.

A total of five Hispanics and one Anglo agent applied. The five Hispanic agents, whose jobs are classified as 1895 series, are certified to handle firearms, and with the help of trained dogs interdict narcotics, currency, explosives and human cargo.

The one Anglo who applied, Lonnie Turnbough, was classified as an 0401 agent whose job primarily consisted of using canines to detect agricultural products.

Turnbough and other 0401 agents are not trained or certified to carry firearms, make arrests, take possession of narcotics or many of the other more dangerous duties assigned to 1895 agents.

But according to court hearing testimony, Johnston manipulated the selection process to ensure that the sole Anglo applicant got the job.

“'In a previous job opening for a temporary dog trainer, the applicants'' qualifications, experience, education, and records of achievement were used to select the successful candidate, who was Anglo.”' said Garcia. “'But in this case, when the Hispanic applicants were more highly qualified than the Anglo applicant, Johnston decided the criteria for selecting the successful candidate should be length of service, which assured him that Turnbough, the Anglo, would get the job.”'

He Said She Said

Johnston testified that no one applicant “'outshined others,”' and therefore decided length of service should be the tie-breaker. Turnbough, he said, had the longer service record and was given the job.

When they saw him performing his new duties, the Hispanic agents testified they were shocked to learn Turnbough had been selected, knowing that he lacked the qualifications for the job. All testified that Turnbough''s selection bothered and angered them.

Soon after, the National Treasury Employees Union questioned Turnbough''s qualifications because the position was an 1895 series job and Turnbough was an 0401 series employee.

Margie Gutierrez, the then-Port Director at Brownsville, who agents claim rubber-stamped Johnston''s selection of Turnbough and appointed him to the job, claimed in her testimony that prior to the union''s inquiry, she tried contacting Human Resources specialist Isella Arechiga in Laredo to verify that Turnbough did indeed qualify for the job. Arechiga, Gutierrez claimed, never returned her phone call.