My son was slammed against the wall and handcuffed by CPB agents during a room search aboard the Norwegian Jewel while we were docked in the Port of Los Angeles.
Police brutality is in the headlines almost everyday now. The movement Black Lives Matter has highlighted some of the more egregious examples against African American citizens. But I can assure you that no one is immune from the use of excessive force from the police or any other quasi-military branch of US law enforcement. We are middle class white folks returning to the US on a cruise ship, and we have now have first-hand experience.
My 25-year-old son and I were returning to the the Port of Los Angeles after a week-long cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel to the Mexican Riviera. We had visited the tourist towns of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. The morning of disembarkation I left our cabin to go get some coffee. When I left the room my son was still asleep. When I returned he was walking down the hall towards me, and said, “I just had my face slammed against the wall and was handcuffed!”
He was awakened by banging on the door. When he got up to see who it was, he was found three Customs and Border Patrol agents and a ship crew member. They said that they were there to do a “random” room search and he was to leave the room. After he got dressed, he picked up his phone, and was ordered to put it down. He didn’t understand why they wanted him to leave it, and they told him several times to put it down, which he did. This is what they called “non-compliance,” and would become their rationalization for what transpired next.
As he was getting ready to leave the cabin, he picked up a sweater to put on. Officer Chavez demanded that he put the sweater down. My son asked if he could put the sweater on because he said he was cold. Without saying a word, Officer Chavez grabbed him, slammed him against the wall, bruising his cheek, and Chavez’s partner handcuffed him. Two officers then searched the room. While he was handcuffed, one of the officers sneeringly asked him if he were still cold, because he could get him a blanket.
When the room search was completed, the handcuffs were removed. At this point my son, unbeknownst to the officers, began recording the ensuing conversation. The officers told him that the reason he was handcuffed was because they were mad about the phone, not because he had asked about his sweater. So even after he had put the phone down, he was thrown and handcuffed because they were still angry about something that had occurred previously.
Even though he was told in the beginning that the room search was random, the officer told him that the room was searched because our cabin was flagged, but that they did not know the reason why. He said that he was magnanimously not going to press charges for “noncompliance,” even though he could. My son asked the Norwegian crew member what he had witnessed, and the crew member said, “I saw nothing.”
We asked a crew member to send security to our room, and several minutes later the head of security arrived. He told us that they have no control over the way the CPB acts on board ship. He intimated that they have their own problems with the CPB. Their own crew members that are not US citizens are not allowed onshore in Los Angeles. They see passengers in handcuffs on a regular basis. We got the impression that the crew member that was accompanying the CPB was scared to say what he witnessed. The head of security suggested we file a complaint with the CPB after disembarking.
When we finally left the ship and passed before the CPB desk, we saw the officers who handcuffed my son. I was infuriated to see them smiling and smirking as they looked at us. As we turned in our cards we asked to see a supervisor (Flores). We explained what happened, and he said that he had already heard about it. He said that my son was “non-compliant” and that the officers were just doing their job. He said they were good officers and would never use unjustified force. He said that “we take especially good care of our US citizens,” which makes me wonder how they would treat non-US citizens in that situation.
We are filing a formal complaint with the CPB. The problem lies with the broad interpretation of the term “compliant.” The officers adhere to a broad interpretation. They do not even want to be questioned about their activities. Rather, I suspect if you say anything to them while they are performing their duties, they can interpret this as non-compliance. We are awaiting a response to our complaint.
The above image is from the article Border agency’s watchdog under investigation for coverup.