Border Patrol Agents Tase an Unarmed Woman Inside the U.S.

Video of the encounter suggests another instance of needless escalation and excessive force.

Mike Blake / Reuters

When the Border Patrol stopped Jessica A. Cooke at a checkpoint, the 21-year-old was about to earn her degree in law-enforcement leadership from New York’s public-university system. Due to her course work, she knew her rights as an American. She chose to complain when her rights were violated. And, as a result of that decision, the unarmed woman was pushed, thrown against her car, and tased.

The Watertown Daily Times tells her story, but there’s no substitute for watching the altercation that left her on the ground screaming in pain and incomprehension:

Cooke is an American citizen. The Border Patrol stopped her inside the United States. Although she was close to the Canadian border, she had not crossed into that country. And she produced a New York state driver’s license to confirm her identity. Even if one believes that the Border Patrol ought to operate internal checkpoints within the United States—which I do not—showing a valid I.D. ought to be enough to allow motorists to proceed.

This video suggests that there was no probable cause to search this woman’s trunk, which was later shown to contain nothing illegal when it was opened without her permission. She should have been permitted to drive away unmolested, not forcibly detained while a canine unit was called, apparently from an hour away. And the male Border Patrol agent clearly and needlessly escalated the situation.

“If you want to know how Cooke ended up on her back, screaming in pain as the barbs from a stun gun delivered incapacitating electricity into her body, there are several possible answers,” Reason’s Jacob Sullum writes. “You could say this indignity was caused by her own stubbornness, her refusal to comply with the seemingly arbitrary dictates of a Border Patrol agent who was detaining her ... Or you could blame the agent's insistence on obeisance to his authority, which led him to assault an unarmed 21-year-old woman who posed no threat to anyone. But the ultimate responsibility lies with the Supreme Court, which has invited this sort of confrontation by carving out a disturbing and dangerous exception to the Fourth Amendment.”

His article adeptly runs through the relevant case law.

What’s additionally galling is that even with video evidence showing Border Patrol agents misapplying the case law and then meting out wholly unnecessary violence, Cooke is more likely to be charged with assaulting an officer than the officers themselves are to be disciplined. Her video will presumably be an asset if she goes forward with a lawsuit. “If I can take it to Supreme Court, I will take it to Supreme Court. I should never have been detained,” she told her hometown newspaper. She added that she is still in the early stages of applying to U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement to become a federal law-enforcement officer herself. “Of course I second-guess it,” she said, “but it takes something like this and someone like me to change it.”