Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Pastor Steve Anderson, facial wounds visible
An Arizona pastor – Tasered, bloodied by broken glass and sporting 11 stitches in his head – claims his injuries came from being stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint 75 miles inside the U.S. and then being battered by police for refusing to allow agents to search his vehicle.
The incident earlier this week highlights tension between constitutional rights, the issue of border security and a controversial Supreme Court ruling that grants an exceptional level of police authority near the Mexican border.
Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe claims he did nothing to deserve his eventual arrest and believes that when he refused to allow the search of his car he was simply standing up for his Fourth Amendment rights, which protect him against unreasonable search without a warrant.
Anderson further questions why the Border Patrol is allowed to stop and search cars at a checkpoint along Interstate 8, 75 miles inland of where the highway nears the Mexican border at Yuma, Ariz.
“I was in the United States! I had crossed no international border!” writes Anderson in commentary accompanying a video he made about his experience.
“I didn’t have any drugs; I didn’t have a human beings in my car,” he claims in the video itself. “Why is this happening in the United States of America?”
Pastor Anderson’s video explaining his side of the controversy and his rough treatment at the hands of police officers can be seen here:
The U.S. Border Patrol, however, explained to WND that Anderson misunderstood his constitutional rights and that because a drug-sniffing dog alerted to Anderson’s rental car, the pastor was wrong not to allow the agents to search his vehicle.
Ben Vik, a supervisory Border Patrol agent for the Yuma sector, further told WND that the Supreme Court and federal law permit the Border Patrol to establish checkpoints up to 100 miles inside the U.S. and that with probable cause the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to searches of automobiles.
“The Supreme Court found that only minimal intrusion existed to motorists at reasonably located checkpoints,” said Vik. “The Supreme Court found that the very brief detention of motorists at a well-marked and identified immigration checkpoint did not constitute an unreasonable search and seizure.”
Vik’s statement, however, doesn’t apply to typical law enforcement agencies, but – thanks to a controversial ruling – only to “immigration” checkpoints established by the Border Patrol.
The courts have typically ruled against “suspicion-less” stops and searches of vehicles at police checkpoints, such as the one that detained Anderson. As recently as 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in Indianapolis vs. Edmond that police cannot establish roadblocks staffed by dogs to randomly search automobiles for drugs.
“We have never approved a checkpoint program whose primary purpose was to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing,” the Supreme Court majority wrote in Indianapolis vs. Edmond. “The [Indianapolis] checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment.”
The 1976 United States vs. Martinez-Fuerte decision, however, created an exception allowing the Border Patrol the unique power to establish checkpoints for seeking illegal immigrants, with the secondary purpose of finding drugs. So while Yuma-area police cannot operate a K-9, or drug-detecting dog, checkpoint without violating the Fourth Amendment, the Border Patrol can.
A second exception was also created for drunk driving checkpoints under 1990′s Michigan Department of State Police vs. Sitz, but some – including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas – do not believe the exceptions to the Fourth Amendment are warranted.
“I am not convinced that Sitz and Martinez-Fuerte were correctly decided,” Thomas wrote in an opinion on the 2000 Indianapolis vs. Edmond decision. “Indeed, I rather doubt that the framers of the Fourth Amendment would have considered ‘reasonable’ a program of indiscriminate stops of individuals not suspected of wrongdoing.”
Graham Boyd, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Drug Law Reform Project in Santa Cruz, Calif., told the Phoenix New Times that an immigration checkpoint is “thin justification” for sniffing random cars for drugs without a warrant.
“Even if somebody has no sympathy for a marijuana user,” Boyd says, “you should still be concerned that the U.S. government is saying the border is an area where the U.S. Constitution is suspended.”
Senior Patrol Agent Vik assured WND that even in the checkpoints, citizens do maintain certain rights limiting officers’ actions.
“Border Patrol immigration checkpoints don’t give Border Patrol agents carte blanche to automatically search persons or their vehicles,” Vik explained. “To conduct a legal search under the Fourth Amendment, agents must develop an articulable probable cause to conduct a lawful search.”
In Anderson’s case, the pastor claims the K-9 dog made no bark or indication that his rental car was tainted with drugs, while Vik insisted to WND that the dog did alert agents to drugs, thus granting probable cause for the search.
Both Anderson and Vik confirm that no contraband was discovered on the vehicle.
As for the Tasering and other alleged rough treatment by police, Vik told WND that Anderson was extracted from his car and arrested by Arizona Department of Public Safety officers, not the Border Patrol, a statement Anderson confirms in his video.
The Arizona DPS told WND that an investigation into the officers’ actions is ongoing and no comment can be made until it is complete.
Anderson spent the evening of his arrest in jail and is awaiting a formal arraignment at which he intends to plead “not guilty.”