Tohono O'odham Roadblock Incident

U.S. Customs:

U.S. Customs played a major role at this roadblock with no less than three agents from the Sells RAIC office on-scene (RAIC = Resident Agent In Charge). I observed one U.S. Customs agent, Bill Dreeland, working the front line with TOPD officers as I initially entered the roadblock at about 5:00pm in the afternoon. The agent was assisting tribal police with stopping vehicles, interacting with occupants, and inspecting vehicles, probably for illegal narcotics, as they passed by.

ICE agent Bill DreelandAfter being stopped by Lt. Ford of the TOPD and interacting with Detective Traviolia for several minutes, federal agent Bill Dreeland (see photos on this page) forced his way forward and demanded that I comply with the TOPD officer's request to identify myself. Agent Dreeland then indicated I would be arrested for interfering with a law enforcement operation if I continued to refuse to identify myself.

None of the TOPD officer's present looked surprised that a federal agent would involve himself in what was allegedly a tribal police operation and no TOPD officer made any attempt to limit Agent Dreeland's interaction with me. This is an important note because the defendants have repeatedly claimed no federal agents participated in roadblock operations and weren't even called to the scene until AFTER illegal narcotics were discovered. As you'll see later, the first report of narcotics didn't occur until approximately 5:40 pm, forty minutes after I was stopped at the roadblock. Nonetheless here was Agent Bill Dreeland leaning in my truck window red-faced and irate while threatening me with enforcement action forty minutes before he was even supposed to be on scene according to defendant testimony.

When I told Agent Dreeland that it appeared he had no jurisdiction in the matter since the operation was allegedly a 'sobriety' checkpoint (federal agents have no authority to enforce state or local laws without being cross-certified by the county sheriff), Agent Dreeland became quite irritated. At this point, Lt. Ford chimed in and corrected me by indicating the operation was a joint task force.

Not too long after this exchange, I was forcibly removed from my vehicle, handcuffed, and dragged off to the side of the road. While on the ground, I observed Agent Dreeland go back to the ICE agent Bill Dreeland front line and work it with TOPD officers for at least another 30 minutes. During this time frame, I observed TOPD officers interacting with Agent Dreeland and sharing intelligence with him. I also heard Dreeland talking very loudly with someone in a vehicle who was passing through the checkpoint. Dreeland seemed to know the individual who asked if anything interesting had taken place that evening. Agent Dreeland responded with a statement along the line of, 'no - just some peace protestor we arrested earlier'.

Several months after this incident, I filed a freedom of Information request with the U.S. Customs Office in Tucson, Arizona. Initially, the Customs Office responded with a letter indicating they were unaware of any such operation and had no related documentation. After I followed up with an additional request, they indicated they had documentation responsive to my request but it was exempt from release because, in part, it would invade the privacy of the on-scene agents.

I appealed this decision to the Washington, D.C. office and 20 months later received a heavily redacted copy of the documentation I had requested. There was ample evidence in the documentation to show active U.S. Customs participation in roadblock operations along with evidence the roadblock was a joint task force operation. Additionally, as I noted earlier, the defendants claimed U.S. Customs wasn't called to the scene until after narcotics were first discovered. According to the report however, this claim is clearly false and makes it obvious that several defendants presented false testimony to the court under penalty of perjury. This aspect of the case is still developing.

Highlights from the report that show active federal participation in roadblock operations appear below:

  • Report codes indicate this was a "CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE BORDER ALLIANCE NARC" program.
  • U.S. Border Patrol Agents were operating a secondary inspection station at the roadblock
  • U.S. Customs agents report they were assisting the TOPD at a sobriety checkpoint within their capacity as representatives from the U.S. Customs RAIC office in Sells, Arizona
  • A U.S. Customs agent (not TOPD) reports he called dispatch regarding a license check and ordered a driver to pull over after a license check came back as suspended
  • The same U.S. Customs agent reports he requested to search the car after the license check came back from dispatch and he ordered the car pulled off to the side of the road.
  • A U.S. Customs agent reports he was helping to direct traffic at the roadblock. This Customs agent is not cross-certified by the county sheriff to enforce Arizona law.
  • TOPD officers assisted U.S. Customs with transporting suspects & marijuana to a federal facility
  • TOPD officers assisted U.S. Customs with interrogating suspects at a federal facility

Copies of the FOIA requests and response from U.S. Customs appear below.

FOIA Documentation:

Roadblock FOIA Documentation:
Filing Date:
File Type:
Initial U.S. Customs FOIA Request - Initial FOIA request regarding U.S. Customs involvement at the TOPD roadblock
99 KB pdf
Initial U.S. Customs FOIA Response - In their response, U.S. Customs indicates they're unaware of any Customs agent operating in the area of the roadblock during the night of the incident. I guess the agent with the 'U.S. Customs' vest carrying a gun and badge who confronted me at the roadblock was just a figment of my imagination.
100 KB pdf
Second U.S. Customs FOIA Request - A follow-up letter clarifying my earlier information request
65 KB pdf
Second U.S. Customs FOIA Response - This response indicates U.S. Customs has found 16 pages of documentation responsive to my request but refuses to release them because - get this - it could be an unreasonable intrusion on the privacy of agents involved and/or put enforcement policies and procedures in jeopardy.
243 KB pdf
U.S. Customs FOIA Appeal - A formal appeal regarding the adverse FOIA determination
67 KB pdf
U.S. Customs Appeal Acknowledgement - A letter acknowledging receipt of my appeal.
86 KB pdf

U.S. Customs FOIA Appeal Response Cover Letter - U.S. Customs grants my FOIA appeal over 20 months after it was initially filed.

FOIA Response Attachments - U.S. Customs incident reports from December 20, 2002 included with the response to my FOIA Appeal. The documents conclusively show that U.S. Customs actively assisted the TOPD with roadblock operations and were on scene prior to the first report of illegal narcotics.




707 KB pdf


1.96 MB pdf

Native American Border Security Conference Documentation:

Document Title:
Filing Date:
File Type:
Conference Documentation FOIA Request - My request for documentation regarding who attended a Border Security Conference and what speeches were given.
114 KB pdf
Conference Documentation FOIA Response - CBP responds with a demand for an explanation on why I want the documentation along with a demand for biographic data from me.
159 KB pdf
Remarks of U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner: Native American Border Security Conference (10/07/2002) - A conference attended by native american tribal representatives where models for increased cooperation between federal and tribal authorities is discussed in detail. Specifically the 'joint task force' model is highlighted. This is important in that the Tohono O'odham Nation is represented and used as an example for cooperative efforts with federal authorities. This conference took place 2 months before the unconstitutional roadblock on the Tohono O'odham Reservation that led to this lawsuit.
739 KB pdf
Closing Remarks of CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner: Native American Border Security Conference (10/08/2002) - Commissioner Bonner explicitly thanks TOPD Chief Richard Saunders for participating in the conference. This document shows that the defendants were very familiar with 'joint task force' operations prior to carrying out their illegal roadblock and that they were actively seeking ways to implement such joint task forces on the reservation.
241 KB pdf
Second Request for FOIA Documentation - After receiving an unlawful demand from CBP for "biographic" data & an explanation as to why I want this documentation, I responded with the following letter citing the Freedom of Information Act with an explanation why they were in violation thereof
283 KB pdf
DOJ News Release: Border Patrol, Native American Leaders Meet to Bolster Border Security - I came across this press release from the DOJ highlighting a Border Security Conference between tribal police and the Border Patrol in early 2002. This was followed up by a second conference many months later in which Defendant Chief Richard Saunders was a guest speaker. DHS still refuses to respond to FOIA requests regarding these conferences.
131 KB pdf

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