Late last year, four Tohono O’odham tribal police officers and one federal agent were deposed in my civil rights lawsuit stemming from an illegal joint task force roadblock over four years ago. I spent most of 2003 successfully defending myself against various trumped-up charges. After the charges were prejudicially dismissed by a judge in December 2003, I filed a lawsuit against the tribal officers which resulted in the deposition of ICE Agent William Dreeland late last year. For those unfamiliar with this fifty-five month legal saga, a comprehensive overview is available here.
While reviewing this entry, readers should keep in mind the defendants in this case have strongly objected to my characterization of the roadblock as a joint task force operation. They have done so because to admit otherwise would result in the loss of sovereign immunity in the ongoing civil rights lawsuit. Instead, the defendants have repeatedly attempted to marginalize the degree of involvement of U.S. Border Patrol and Customs Agents through omission and deception. They’ve also testified that federal agents were not involved with roadblock operations – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary as discussed here and here.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Bill Dreeland is of special interest because his presence and actions at the roadblock provide additional evidence the defendants perjured themselves regarding the scope of checkpoint operations in 2002. Evidence that ultimately shows the roadblock was not just a ‘sobriety’ checkpoint as the tribal police claimed but was a joint task force operation whose scope was indistinguishable from general crime control.
The remainder of this entry will discuss Agent Dreeland and his deposition in greater detail. It should be noted that Agent Dreeland authored a U.S. Customs Incident Report from the night in question. With some difficulty, I was able to procure a copy of the report from the Department of Homeland Security via a FOIA request but it took over two years. The report details much of the interaction between U.S. Customs and the tribal police while identifying the roadblock as a controlled substance border alliance narc operation – not a ‘sobriety’ checkpoint as claimed by the defendants.
By way of background, I came across an online bio for Agent Dreeland several months ago on the Gunsite website where Agent Dreeland has been moonlighting as a firearms instructor. The bio reads as follows:
“Bill Dreeland is currently a Special Agent for the US Customs Service in Tucson, AZ. He has more than 23 years of law enforcement experience as a local police officer, a police academy instructor, and as patrol agent with the US Border Patrol. He has been a firearms trainer since 1977. Bill was a Captain in the US Army Reserve and served in several intelligence units. He has completed several military counter and anti-terrorism courses. As a Rangemaster at Gunsite Bill is qualified to instruct pistol, carbine, rifle a, SMG and Foreign Weapons.”
In his deposition, Agent Dreeland testified his primarily job description with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is to investigate drug smuggling cases. Given this fact, the obvious question is what was a very experienced federal drug smuggling investigator doing on the front line of a tribal ‘sobriety’ checkpoint well away from the international border if the purpose of the operation was only to detect drunk drivers as the defendants claim?
In his own words, Agent Dreeland describes how he first happens to arrive at the roadblock in question:
“I was aware that the Tohono O’odham Police Department was conducting a checkpoint that evening. I was stationed at the Three Points office for Customs, which is at approximately Milepost 150 on Highway 86. I was also the duty agent for that day and would have been the duty agent until 0800 the next morning. I was aware of the checkpoint. I advised my supervisor that I was going to go down to the checkpoint in the anticipation of something happening that would have been of interest to US Customs, and I drove down there.”
– Dreeland Deposition, p15.20
This testimony establishes the following:
- Agent Dreeland had prior knowledge of the location & time of the tribal roadblock even though no public announcement regarding the roadblock was ever made. The defendants have testified it’s common practice to notify U.S. Customs & the Border Patrol of upcoming roadblock operations.
- Agent Dreeland planned on being present at the roadblock before it took place, contrary to tribal police testimony that U.S. Customs was only called to the scene after narcotics were discovered. Tribal police incident reports show the first discovery of narcotics didn’t occur until fifty minutes after I was stopped in an unrelated incident yet Dreeland was already present & working the front line.
- Agent Dreeland sought and received approval from his supervisor to travel to the roadblock prior to its implementation. This indicates Dreeland didn’t just act on his own. He had the formal support of his supervisor in creating a U.S. Customs presence at the tribal ‘sobriety’ checkpoint.
Further questioning revealed that Agent Dreeland didn’t just drive to the checkpoint and wait in his vehicle however. Rather, Dreeland parked his patrol vehicle & donned his official U.S. Customs vest:
“No, I was in plain clothes with a black ballistic vest on that was marked with large yellow letters on the front and rear that said ‘police’ with the words ‘US Customs’ underneath”.
– Dreeland Deposition, p32.1
Agent Dreeland then positioned himself in the center of State Route 86 on the front line of roadblock operations where tribal police were stopping vehicles, checking documentation, running wants and warrants checks, searching trunks, and interrogating drivers – all without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing:
“I was standing pretty much in the center of Highway 86. There were several TOPD officers — at least one, possibly two — speaking to the driver of the truck. They were discussing with him that he had to show his driver’s license under Arizona law. This discussion went on for several minutes. I was standing there. I thought perhaps there was a communications problem between them and the driver. I intervened. I told the driver of the truck that he did have an obligation under Arizona law to show his driver’s license in that circumstance, and that, if he failed to do so, the Tohono O’Odham officers, as they had stated to him, would arrest him.”
– Dreeland Deposition, p20.11
This testimony establishes that:
- Agent Dreeland was standing close enough to vehicles being stopped on SR86 that he could hear conversations between the tribal police and vehicle occupants.
- Agent Dreeland specifically noted that tribal police invoked state law as the reason why drivers were required to show ID. The tribal police on the other hand testified they never invoked state law prior to dragging me out of my vehicle. This discrepancy is important because the defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment partly revolves around whether or not tribal police were enforcing state law during roadblock operations.
- Agent Dreeland, a federal Customs agent, intentionally intervened between myself and a tribal officer even though U.S. Customs has no jurisdiction over state or tribal law. This reinforces my observations that the roadblock was a joint task force in which Agent Dreeland felt a vested interest. In fact the on-scene commander specifically told me the operation was a joint task force after Agent Dreeland approached me – although he denies this in court.
To drive this point home, the following testimony establishes the fact that Agent Dreeland was not certified to enforce state law at the time of the roadblock so had no business interacting with me unless the operation was indeed a joint task force:
Q: Okay. On December 20th, 2002, were you POST-certified?
A: No, I was not.
Q: And on December 20th, 2002, were you cross-certified through the Pima County Sheriff’s Office for enforcing State law?
A: No, I was not.
– Dreeland Deposition, p25.21
When Agent Dreeland was asked to explain why he positioned himself on the front line of the roadblock with tribal officers, Dreeland testified:
I was basically acting as law enforcement backup for the officers on the checkpoint. If they had gotten into trouble or a fight, my intention was to support them.
– Dreeland Deposition, p22.4
Why Agent Dreeland felt that fifteen Arizona POST certified police officers assigned to the roadblock along with tribal rangers couldn’t take care of themselves at a suspicionless roadblock doesn’t make much sense if we accept the defendants claim that this was not a joint task force operation. If on the other hand, the roadblock was a multi-jurisdictional operation involving federal and tribal officials, then Agent Dreeland’s actions and statements make more sense.
Indeed, Agent Dreeland admits he may have referred to the roadblock as a joint task force himself:
Q: Did you say anything to — When you were talking to Mr. Bressi, did you say anything about a task force?
A: I may have.
Q: Do you specifically recall? I don’t want you to speculate.
A: I may have said that. I don’t specifically recall my words.
– Dreeland Deposition, p40.15
While the defendants claim Agent Dreeland was acting on his own accord, the fact of the matter is no tribal police officer ever questioned Agent Dreeland’s presence at the checkpoint or attempted to limit his actions in any way. If the roadblock was indeed merely a ‘sobriety’ checkpoint operated solely by tribal officers, why did the tribal on-scene commander allow unaffiliated law enforcement individuals unfettered access to roadblock operations?
Lest someone think this was a one time event, Agent Dreeland further testified he has participated in 3-4 similar tribal checkpoints in the past and was familiar with several of the officers present.
Q Okay. When you came to the roadblock on December 20th, was your interaction with the tribal police any different than the way you’d interact at other roadblocks in the past?
Q How many roadblocks have you been to with the tribal police in the past, if you can estimate that?
A To the best of my knowledge, three or four.
– Dreeland Deposition, p24.17
Throughout Agent Dreeland’s testimony, what I found interesting was how his self-described role at the roadblock continually changed with time. Initially, Agent Dreeland testified he drove to the checkpoint to be in the general area in case something of interest to U.S. Customs arose. In short order however, Dreeland was not only in the general area but was standing in the middle of the highway with tribal police who were stopping vehicles and interrogating occupants. His stated purpose shifted from just wanting to be in the area to being active federal backup for tribal police. Finally, Agent Dreeland’s stated role shifted once again from front line federal law enforcement backup to direct intervention when he assisted tribal police in seeking my compliance.
At no point during these events did tribal police indicate Agent Dreeland’s presence and participation in what was allegedly a tribal operation, was unexpected or improper. To the contrary, the U.S. Customs incident report from that night shows a great deal of inter-agency cooperation. Addionally, Detecetive Traviolia, the tribal officer who eventually arrested me that night, testified he intentionally walked away from me during our interaction to allow Agent Dreeland a shot:
Q How far away did you walk from Mr. Bressi when Agent Dreeland approached?
A I walked to the — It would be the north side of the roadway, off the shoulder.
Q Okay. What was going on over there?
A Nothing. I just wanted to get away from Mr. Bressi and let somebody else deal with him.
– Detective Traviolia Deposition, p63.19
In summary, Agent Dreeland’s testimony reinforces my own account of the evening and makes it clear the scope of roadblock operations far exceeded legal limitations. Tribal police allowed a U.S. Customs agent to directly participate in roadblock operations and failed to minimize the intrusiveness of the roadblock on the traveling public. While Agent Dreeland was only one of many federal agents present at the roadblock, the deference the tribal police showed Dreeland makes one question who’s roadblock it actually was.
Many thanks to my attorneys David Euchner and James Harrison of the First Amendment Project for making these depositions possible.