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Texas DPS investigation finds no evidence of wrongdoing by troopers accused of mistreating migrants

 Migrants in Eagle Pass, Texas walk near concertina wire erected by state officers participating in Operation Lone Star.
The Associated Press
Migrants in Eagle Pass, Texas walk near concertina wire erected by state officers participating in Operation Lone Star.

The Department of Public Safety has cleared itself of any wrongdoing after allegations surfaced earlier this year that troopers working on the border deprived migrants of water and medical assistance.

The investigation was launched after a medic and trooper assigned to Operation Lone Star, a state-led, multi-billion border security operation initiated by Gov. Greg Abbott, told superiors that agents assigned to Shelby Park in Eagle Pass allegedly ordered troopers to push a group of migrants — including children and nursing babies — back into the river.

A trooper and medic, Nicholas Wingate, emailed the account to a supervisor and said other troopers were told to deny migrants water, even during triple digit temperatures.

An internal investigation from the agency’s Office of Inspector General said the investigations found “no reasonable cause to believe that the South Texas leadership of the department institutionally engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violated law or department policy,” according to a two-page summary of the report obtained by The Texas Newsroom.

The investigation summary was discussed briefly at Thursday’s meeting of the Texas Public Safety Commission, the five-member body that oversees the Texas DPS. The five current members were all appointed by Gov. Abbott.

Texas DPS Lt. Travis Randolph of the inspector general’s office said the review took three months and included more than 50 interviews and reviews of body camera footage.

He said an email sent by Wingate to his superiors alleging a migrant woman had a miscarriage while stuck in a razor wire barrier deployed near the Rio Grande was incomplete. Randolph said that subsequent medical reports reviewed by his staff showed she was not in danger of losing the baby.

“She was found in the concertina wire with abdominal pain. She was treated at a medical clinic with abdominal pain but was released the next day. The sonogram indicated that she had a 12-week-old fetus with a healthy heartbeat,” Randolph said, citing medical reports obtained during the investigation.

The investigation also found that Wingate’s report that a teenaged migrant suffered a broken leg while crossing the river was also incomplete.

“The boy did have a broken leg that occurred seven weeks earlier in Colombia,” he said. The teenager was later treated after he crossed into the United States and given additional medical information about his recovery.

Addressing reports that agents were ordered to push migrants back into the water, Randolph said the term “push” indicates the migrants were redirected to a port of entry.

“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,” he said.

On the issue of denying water, Randolph’s executive summary said the agency doesn’t have a blanket policy to make water unavailable. But it’s instead not offered to every migrant as a deterrent.

“Rather, the directive was not to provide water to everyone under every circumstance in an effort not to incentivize migrants to cross the river,” Randolph told the commission.

Though the report cleared the agency and its troopers of wrongdoing, it did concede Wingate wasn’t the only agent that had “legitimate concerns” about the operation in Eagle Pass.

“Some department personnel designated to Shelby Park operation had misgivings towards the security objectives and or the strategies employed to achieve them,” Randolph said. “In some cases, personnel had legitimate concerns that they responsibly forwarded to the Office of Inspector General warranting these investigations.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, cast doubt on the findings and said DPS leadership can’t be taken at their word after the agency’s botched response to the mass shooting in Uvalde in May 2022 that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

“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,” Castro said in a statement. “We have to remember that senior leaders at Texas DPS lied about Uvalde. Operation Lone Star is a political stunt, and Texas DPS leaders have become little more than spokespeople for Governor Abbott. They've lost all credibility, and there's no reason to trust that they can honestly investigate themselves.”

Castro and other Democrats have repeatedly called on the Biden administration to take action against Texas’ Operation Lone Star and have criticized the U.S. Border Patrol’s cooperation with the state law enforcement.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

The Texas Newsroom