PHOENIX — Border Patrol
agents pursue smugglers one moment and sit around in boredom the next.
It was during one of the lulls that Bryan Gonzalez, a young agent, made
some comments to a colleague that cost him his career.
Stationed in Deming, N.M., Mr. Gonzalez was in his green-and-white
Border Patrol vehicle just a few feet from the international boundary
when he pulled up next to a fellow agent to chat about the frustrations
of the job. If marijuana were legalized, Mr. Gonzalez acknowledges saying, the drug-related
violence across the border in Mexico would cease. He then brought up an
organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition that favors
ending the war on drugs.
Those remarks, along with others expressing sympathy for illegal
immigrants from Mexico, were passed along to the Border Patrol
headquarters in Washington. After an investigation, a termination letter
arrived that said Mr. Gonzalez held “personal views that were contrary
to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism,
dedication and esprit de corps.”
After his dismissal, Mr. Gonzalez joined a group even more exclusive
than the Border Patrol: law enforcement officials who have lost their
jobs for questioning the war on drugs and are fighting back in the
In Arizona, Joe Miller, a probation officer in Mohave County, near the
California border, filed suit last month in Federal District Court after
he was dismissed for adding his name to a letter by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which is based in Medford, Mass., and known as LEAP, expressing support for the decriminalization of marijuana.
“More and more members of the law enforcement community are speaking out
against failed drug policies, and they don’t give up their right to
share their insight and engage in this important debate simply because
they receive government paychecks,” said Daniel Pochoda, the legal
director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which is handling the Miller case.
Mr. Miller was one of 32 members of LEAP who signed the letter, which
expressed support for a California ballot measure that failed last year
that would have permitted recreational marijuana use. Most of the
signers were retired members of law enforcement agencies, who can speak
their minds without fear of action by their bosses. But Mr. Miller and a
handful of others who were still on the job — including the district
attorney for Humboldt County in California and the Oakland city attorney
— signed, too.
LEAP has seen its membership increase significantly from the time it was
founded in 2002 by five disillusioned officers. It now has an e-mail
list of 48,000, and its members include 145 judges, prosecutors, police
officers, prison guards and other law enforcement officials, most of
them retired, who speak on the group’s behalf.
“No one wants to be fired and have to fight for their job in court,”
said Neill Franklin, a retired police officer who is LEAP’s executive
director. “So most officers are reluctant to sign on board. But we do
have some brave souls.”
Mr. Miller was accused of not making clear that he was speaking for
himself and not the probation department while advocating the
decriminalization of cannabis. His lawsuit, though, points out that the
letter he signed said at the bottom, “All agency affiliations are listed
for identification purposes only.”
He was also accused of dishonesty for denying that he had given approval
for his name to appear on the LEAP letter. In the lawsuit, Mr. Miller
said that his wife had given approval without his knowledge, using his
e-mail address, but that he had later supported her.
Kip Anderson, the court administrator for the Superior Court in Mohave
County, said there was no desire to limit Mr. Miller’s political views.
“This isn’t about legalization,” Mr. Anderson said. “We’re not taking a
stand on that. We just didn’t want people to think he was speaking on
behalf of the probation department.”
Mr. Miller, who is also a retired police officer and Marine, lost an
appeal of his dismissal before a hearing officer. But when his
application for unemployment benefits was turned down, he appealed that
and won. An administrative law judge found that Mr. Miller had not been
dishonest with his bosses and that the disclaimer on the letter was
In the case of Mr. Gonzalez, the fired Border Patrol agent, he had not
joined LEAP but had expressed sympathy with the group’s cause. “It
didn’t make sense to me why marijuana is illegal,” he said. “To see that
thousands of people are dying, some of whom I know, makes you want to
look for a change.”
Since his firing, Mr. Gonzalez, who filed suit in federal court in Texas
in January, has worked as a construction worker, a bouncer and a yard
worker. He has also gone back to school, where he is considering a law