Assistant U. S. Attorney Seth Askins (619) 546-6692 and Alicia Williams (619) 546-8917
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – March 9, 2022
SAN DIEGO – U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Marcos Valenzuela was convicted by a federal jury today of using unreasonable force on an individual who had applied for admission to the United States from Mexico.
The jury trial began Monday. The jury deliberated for an hour and a half before finding Valenzuela guilty of two charges, Deprivation of Rights under Color of Law and Falsification of Records in a Federal Investigation.
According to evidence presented at trial, which included surveillance video and witness testimony, Valenzuela was assigned to primary vehicle inspection in lane 5 at the Calexico West Port of Entry on August 16, 2019. There was an incident in the pre-primary area of his line between the victim, identified only as “J.L.” in court documents, and the driver of a motorcycle, after the motorcycle cut in front of J.L.’s vehicle while waiting in line.
Valenzuela responded to the pre-primary area where J.L. had gotten out of his vehicle. Valenzuela instructed J.L. to get back into his vehicle, and when J.L. did not immediately comply, Valenzuela told him to get back into his vehicle or Valenzuela would “throw him to the ground.” After J.L. complied, Valenzuela returned to the primary booth. Eventually, the motorcyclist applied for entry into the United States at the primary booth, and Valenzuela told him that he was “going to f**k [J.L.] up right now.”
Immediately thereafter, J.L. drove up to the primary inspection booth with his identification card extended in his hand from the window of the vehicle in an effort to expedite the admissibility inspection. Rather than conducting that inspection, Valenzuela immediately began to rehash the incident in pre-primary, telling J.L., “All right, bro. Check it out. I already called it upstairs…” J.L. attempted to explain that the motorcyclist had cut line in front of him, but Valenzuela told him to be quiet, that Valenzuela was talking, and that J.L. would be removed from the vehicle if he said another word.
When J.L. asked to speak with Valenzuela’s supervisor, Valenzuela told J.L. to turn off and exit the vehicle. While J.L. was turning off the vehicle and removing his seat belt, Valenzuela reached through the driver’s window, unlocked and opened the door, and grabbed J.L.’s left wrist. He pulled J.L. out of the vehicle, and then in one motion that took about five seconds, he shoved J.L. into the wedge of the door, wrapped his right arm around J.L.’s neck and upper chest, threw J.L. to the ground with a backwards motion, and landed on top of J.L. who was now face down on the ground and sustained minor injuries to his forehead and forearm.
Once J.L. had been placed in handcuffs, Valenzuela escorted him to the vehicle secondary office. While in the security office, Valenzuela made multiple misrepresentations to other Customs and Border Protection officers about his interaction with J.L. in an effort to portray J.L. as the aggressor and justify his use of force against J.L. Valenzuela also wrote an incident report later that day that included numerous false statements alleging aggressive verbal and physical conduct by J.L. and claiming that J.L. resisted arrest.
At trial, Valenzuela testified in his own defense, maintaining that J.L. resisted arrest by “pushing off” against him once he had been removed from the vehicle and attempting to explain away the false statements in his reports by claiming that the statements had actually been made by J.L. during their interaction in the pre-primary area.
The jury rejected that testimony and found that Valenzuela deprived J.L. of his Fourth Amendment Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, which includes the right to be free from the use of excessive force. The jury also found that Valenzuela falsified the incident report with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence a federal investigation, specifically the investigation of his excessive use of force against J.L.
“The jury has found that Marcos Valenzuela used excessive force and deprived a United States citizen of his right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office takes every allegation of excessive force by law enforcement officers very seriously, and where those allegations are supported by the evidence, we will take the appropriate action to ensure that the transgressors are held accountable. Along with our law enforcement agency partners, we are dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of all members of our community.”
Grossman thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Seth Askins and Alicia Williams and Paralegal Specialist Lina Douglas who prosecuted the case, along with former Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Tenorio and Special Agents with both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility for their excellent work on this case.
“Today's guilty verdict demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to holding everyone accountable for their criminal actions, regardless of the position they hold,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner. “I want to specifically thank Customs and Border Protection's Office of Professional Responsibility for their partnership and commitment in seeing this case to the end.”
“CBP employees and officers take an Oath of Office, a solemn pledge that conveys great responsibility and one that should be carried out at all times with the utmost professionalism,” said Elizabeth Cervantes, Special Agent in Charge of the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility in San Diego. “CBP employees who disregard that oath and instead choose to violate the trust of the citizens they swore to protect will be held accountable. CBP will continue to work with our partners at other agencies to seek out and investigate any instance of abuse. This layered approach and collaboration among federal agencies is critical to the mission of professional integrity. Although the percentage of prosecutions for abuse is very small, no incident is tolerated.”
“CBP stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission, and the overwhelming majority of CBP employees and officers perform their duties with honor and distinction, working tirelessly every day to keep our country safe,” said Ryan Koseor, Port Director for the Calexico area ports of entry for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “We do not tolerate abuse within our ranks, and condemn actions that would tarnish the reputation of our agency. I appreciate the work of our partners to investigate this officer for using excessive force and to bring this case to trial. As public servants, we are rightly held to a higher standard of conduct and are subject to the same laws and rules that apply to private citizens.”
Valenzuela is scheduled to be sentenced on July 8 before U.S. District Chief Judge Dana M. Sabraw.
DEFENDANT Case Number 21cr1056-JLS
Marcos Valenzuela Age: 30 El Centro, CA
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Deprivation of Rights under Color of Law – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 242
Maximum penalty: Ten years in prison and $250,000 fine
Falsification of Records in a Federal Investigation – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1519
Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison and $250,000 fine
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Professional Responsibility
Federal Bureau of Investigation