Texas DPS Leaders Absolved of Wrongdoing Over Immigrant Mistreatment Claims

The investigation was launched after a medic sent an email to a supervisor claiming troopers were instructed to deny water and medical attention to migrants.
Texas DPS Leaders Absolved of Wrongdoing Over Immigrant Mistreatment Claims
Migrants wait in the Rio Grande for an opening in the razor wire barrier, to cross into the United States, in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Sept. 25, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)
Jana J. Pruet

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) found no evidence of wrongdoing after allegations that troopers working on the southern border mistreated migrants by denying them water and medical attention.

DPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) “found no reasonable cause to believe that the South Texas (3E) leadership or the Department institutionally engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violated law or Department policy,” according to the agency’s two-page summary.

The investigation, launched on July 14, was initiated after DPS trooper and paramedic Nicholas Wingate emailed a sergeant on July 3 with allegations that troopers assigned to Operation Lone Star at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass were instructed to deny water and medical assistance to migrants crossing the border.

Operation Lone Star is a multiagency border security initiative launched by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2021 in response to President Joe Biden’s immigration policies. The state has spent billions of dollars over the past two years in its attempt to secure the Texas-Mexico border.

Just days after DPS began its investigation, Mr. Abbott denied accusations that personnel working on behalf of Operation Lone Star had been ordered or directed to deny water and medical assistance to immigrants.

“No orders or directions have been given under Operation Lone Star that would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally,” he said in a statement on July 18. “The Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Military Department continue taking steps to monitor migrants in distress, provide appropriate medical attention when needed, and encourage them to use one of the 29 international bridges along the Texas-Mexico border where they can safely and legally cross.”

DPS Inspector General Phillip Ayala said his investigators conducted more than 50 interviews and reviewed more than 108 gigabits of body camera footage, emails, and messages during the course of a three-month investigation.

“Our work comes under a lot of scrutiny; we welcome the scrutiny because we’re able to defend it with facts, and I’m confident in this regard, that has been accomplished,” Mr. Ayala told the Public Safety Commission during a public meeting on Thursday, Dec. 7.

The Investigation

Texas DPS Lt. Travis Randolph, one of the lead investigators, shared a summary of the OIG’s findings during Thursday’s meeting.

He said he found no evidence to support the accusations that troopers were instructed to deprive migrants of water.

“There is no formal order given by supervisors to support this or to instruct them not to provide water to migrants under any circumstance,” Mr. Randolph said. “Rather, the directive was not to provide water to everyone under every circumstance in an effort not to incentivize migrants to cross the river.”

He said investigators did not find substantiating evidence pertaining to troopers refusing to provide medical assistance when “needed or requested.”

Mr. Randolph addressed the accusations involving a pregnant migrant woman who allegedly miscarried her baby when she got stuck in the razor wire while trying to cross the border.

His investigators reviewed the medical reports for the 19-year-old woman and found that she was in no danger of having a miscarriage.

“She was found in a concertina wire with abdominal pain. She was treated at a medical clinic with abdominal pain but was released the next day,” Mr. Randolph explained during the public meeting. The sonogram indicated that she had a 12-week-old fetus with a healthy heartbeat of 154 beats per minute, and she was released with documentation on what to expect in her next trimester.”

Another accusation claimed that a 15-year-old boy had broken his leg while attempting to illegally cross the Rio Grande River.

“We followed up again on the patient care report, along with the medical facility,” Mr. Randolph said. “The boy did have a broken leg that occurred seven weeks earlier in the country of Columbia.”

He said the boy had a broken fibula that was treated in Columbia before making the trip to the United States, where he received additional medical care. The boy was also provided with crutches and information on “how to recover.”

As far as instructions for troopers to “push” migrants back from crossing illegally, Mr. Randolph said the term was never used as an instruction to physically force migrants back toward the river.

“Workers were authorized to verbally instruct migrants to go back to Mexico and cross at the port of entry,” he explained. “The term push in this regard was never intended, nor was it widely interpreted to mean troopers should physically force migrants back to the river.”

Critics of Operation Lone Star

Some Democrats have been critical of Texas’ efforts to secure the border.

Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas said in a statement that he did not trust the findings of the DPS investigation.

“The cruelty of Operation Lone Star is well-documented. Individual DPS troopers risked their careers to blow the whistle about the abuses that are part of Operation Lone Star, and their accounts align with what asylum-seekers have also said. We have to remember that senior leaders at the Texas DPS lied about Uvalde,” the congressman said on Thursday.

“Operation Lone Star is a political stunt, and DPS leaders have become little more than spokespeople for Governor Abbott. They’ve lost all credibility, and there is no reason to trust that they can honestly investigate themselves.”

State Rep. Marc Veasey, along with other lawmakers, has called on the Department of Justice to oversee the state’s border security operation.

“Governor Abbott’s #OperationLoneStar is dangerous, inhumane, and is costing taxpayers millions every week. That is why I joined my fellow Texas Democrats to call on @TheJusticeDept to provide continued oversight over this political stunt,” Mr. Veasey wrote on X earlier this week.

Jana is an award-winning investigative journalist. She covers news in Texas with a focus on politics, energy, and crime. Jana has reported for many media outlets over the years, including Reuters, The Dallas Morning News, and TheBlaze, among others. She has a journalism degree from Southern Methodist University. Send your story ideas to: [email protected]
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