The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employee who slept while on duty just yards from the U.S.-Mexico border is a second-level supervisor who has been running the night shift for at least 15 years, according to a border patrol official.
The snooze, discovered by a television news crew traveling in the area on an unrelated story, has local CBP management in full “damage control mode,” according to the official.
The news crew drove up on the vehicle idling and parked strangely on a hillside just north of the San Ysidro border crossing before 7 a.m. Wednesday. At first they thought the officer was in trouble. As they approached the SUV, they spotted the agent asleep in the driver's seat with the engine on.
When they rapped on the window, the agent appeared startled and thankful to be awakened, saying he had had a rough day the day before and didn't get any sleep.
“Anyone who says they haven’t nodded off for a couple seconds out there is lying,” a border patrol official said Friday.
The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the incident, said agents have fallen asleep on the job before.
“It happens,” he said. “You’re chasing people out there for 9, 10 hours and it happens."
The official said it did not appear to be a case of “nodding off." The vehicle appears to have been parked up on the hillside to make it easier to catch some shut-eye.
“If you look at the vehicles, they have a cage behind the passenger seat which keeps the seat from going back,” he said. “The seats don’t recline more than a couple of inches.”
When shown the photographs Thursday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Border and Customs Protection said any agent sleeping while on duty is not acceptable and that they’re looking into the matter.
Rodney Scott, who is the acting deputy chief patrol agent of the San Diego section, said the agent was put on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
"We take this incident very seriously," Scott said. "Vigilance is one of the core values of [the] Border Patrol. Any inattention to duty is not tolerated, but an incident like this potentially disrespects the thousands of agents out there carrying out this job every single day."
Scott, who said he did not believe the agent was working a double shift, said that he believes the incident is an isolated one and is not part of a larger systematic problem.
"The supervisors and the watch commanders work very closely with their teams," Scott said. "If this was a widespread problem, we would know about it already."
However, the border official who contacted NBCSanDiego Friday said agents have been caught sleeping on the job before.
“There have been other agents caught doing that -- supervisors and non-supervisors,” the official continued. “It’s like any other job -- people are going to push the limits on what they could do.”
Management often reminds agents to call for relief if they need a coffee or a moment to walk around, he said.
Pedro Rios of the American Friends Services Committee, an organization that documents human rights abuses by the Border Patrol and other government agencies, said the incident suggests the CBP is overstaffed. Rios said the last thing the border needs is the 1,200 National Guard troops Pres. Barack Obama pledged this week to send to the border.
"There has been such an increase in Border Patrol over the past several years that there is an excess of Border Patrol agents -- so much that they're finding themselves with nothing to do, and in this case, this Border Patrol agent was falling asleep," Rios said.
The first offense for sleeping on duty can carry a range of penalties, up to and including termination.
As for the watch commander caught napping, the border official who spoke with NBCSanDiego Friday said the employee involved is a really good Border Patrol agent and he doesn’t condone that he fell asleep.
Local management was scrambling to control the story, the official said Friday. If they hadn’t filed a significant incident report and sent it off to CBP supervisors in Washington, D.C., the official said he would be surprised.
Reached for comment, Daryl Reed, who is a supervisory Border Patrol agent of the Information & Communication Division, stated, "We re-iterate the statements made yesterday by DCPA Scott, 'Vigilance is one of our core values. Inattention to duty is not tolerated. This is an isolated incident that is being addressed aggressively. We have no further comments while the incident is under official investigation.' ”
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