BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Carianne Borowski and her family have crossed the border to and from Canada countless times, but she says what happened to her at the Peace Bridge in December gives her nightmares.
Carianne, her husband Matthew and their three kids are American citizens but now live in Ontario. They were in Buffalo just before Christmas to do some shopping and have dinner. They were approaching the Peace Bridge going home when she says an American agent with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) physically assaulted her.
Snow was falling that night as they drove up to the Duty Free area. Matthew planned to pull into the parking lot, because their infant child was screaming in the back seat and needed to be fed.
A cone blocked the Duty Free lane, and they say a man dressed in all black, including a mask over his face, motioned them to pull over to show their registration.
The man was an agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but the Borowski's say they didn't know that. As they pulled to the side and waiting, Carianne got out of the car to feed the baby. She says that's when the agent, whom she described as approximately 400 pounds, pounced on her.
"He was grabbing my arms, and he basically grabbed me from behind and yanked from this arm, pulled me to the end of the car away from the child," Carianne said, adding that she suffered injuries.
She provided 2 On Your Side a copy of her medical paperwork from an emergency room visit the next day. It shows the doctor reported her "arms were hyper-extended" and she had Tendinitis in her wrist.
"[The doctor] said I had multiple tissue tears, multiple strains, and it was going to take at least 2 to 3 weeks for them to heal," Carianne said.
After she was cuffed, she says the agent took her to the office, where she was detained for more than 3 hours. She says the agent told her repeatedly that she was being arrested and would be going to jail.
"It was a nightmare," Carianne said.
She and her husband say they asked supervisors to review the surveillance video of what happened to show she did nothing wrong and that the agent used excessive force.
Eventually, she says CBP officers told her she would not be criminally charged.
"Up until they watched the video, they were telling me I was going to jail," Carianne said. "When they watched the video, they said, well no you're free to go."
Carianne was given a violation, similar to a speeding ticket. The fine will be $75, but the Borowski's say they do not plan to pay.
"We will fight this ticket," Matthew, who is an attorney in Buffalo, said. "We will fight this ticket to the very end, because she did nothing wrong."
Matthew, who is serving as Carianne's attorney, is preparing a lawsuit against CBP that he expects to file next week.
He said the surveillance video is a key piece of evidence. In the days after the incident, he filed a Spoliation Letter with CBP, which requires the agency keep any and all evidence in the case, including the surveillance video.
"I absolutely want that video," Matthew said.
2 On Your Side filed a Freedom of Information Act request with CBP to receive the video. Our request is still pending.
We reached out to CBP to find out if the agency refutes any of the Borowski's claims and to see if CBP did an internal investigation and/or disciplined anyone involved. Richard Misztal, a spokesperson for CBP, sent a lengthy response.
"CBP does not comment on pending litigation," Mr. Misztal wrote in the email, adding that CBP does have the authority to perform outbound inspections, such as what happened as the Borowski's were heading to Canada.
The rest of his statement only provided background on the workings of CBP and did not address this specific incident. You can read the rest of Mr. Misztal's statement at the bottom of this story.
Carianne, who used to come to Western New York frequently for shopping, dinner, and to visit her husband at his business in Buffalo, said she now fears to cross the border.
"To basically treat every individual as a criminal, have no regard for them at all, is what it seems like they're doing," Carianne said. "(That) is not right."
Matthew has crossed the border dozens of times since that December night. He routinely represents clients in cases in Buffalo courtrooms. And he says that's become more difficult, because after the incident, he and Carianne got letters saying their NEXUS cards had been revoked. There was no explanation.
"All we got was a letter saying, 'You fail to meet the minimum requirements,'" Matthew said, He now sits in traffic for up to an hour or longer, whereas he used to cross quickly. He says it has hurt his legal practice.
Carianne's court date on the violation is in March. If CBP does not drop the violation, Matthew said he will be able to acquire the surveillance video through evidentiary proceedings.
"That video will show my wife did nothing wrong," he said.
WEB EXTRA: Full Statement From Customs and Border Protection, Richard J. Misztal, Public Affairs Liason:
CBP does not comment on pending litigation. CBP stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission, and does not tolerate deviations from the policies that govern who we are and what we do as officers of CBP.
Travelers who have a concern regarding their experience should speak to a supervisor on site immediately. In many cases issues can be resolved and questions answered immediately. Travelers can also call or submit their concerns electronically. More information on the traveler complaint process can also be found at: http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/customerservice/handle_complaints.xml
CBP has the authority for departure control for any person, baggage, and other merchandise departing the United States and merchandise is subject to inspection and search by CBP officers to ensure compliance with all applicable export laws.
CBP focuses on arriving travelers and trade as a means of securing our country and our economy. However, CBP routinely conducts periodic and targeted outbound examinations as part of our authority, focusing on persons of interest to national security, weapons, fugitives attempting to flee the United States, unreported currency, and export violations.
Outbound examinations continue to serve as a valuable tool in our efforts to enforce smart, effective, and strategic border operations, and have successfully stopped child abduction, intercepted criminals fleeing prosecution, interdicted illegal contraband such as controlled substances, precursor drugs, and arms, and uncovered a myriad of other violations involving currency reporting requirements, stolen vehicles, trade, and immigration.
Individuals may qualify to participate in the NEXUS program if they are a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or Canada and pass criminal history and law enforcement checks.
However, individuals may not qualify if they:
- Are inadmissible to the United States or Canada under applicable immigration laws;
- Provide false or incomplete information on their application;
- Have been convicted of a criminal offense in any country;
- Have been found in violation of customs, agriculture, or immigration law;
- Will not lawfully reside in either Canada or the United States for the term of their NEXUS membership; or
- Fail to meet other requirements of the NEXUS program.
To participate, both the United States and Canada must approve an individual's application. Denial of an application by either country will keep an individual from participating in the NEXUS program.
In the event someone is denied or revoked from the NEXUS program, they will be provided information in writing detailing the reason for this action.
Individuals who feel that their trusted traveler application was denied due to inaccurate or incomplete information may provide additional documentation to the CBP Trusted Traveler Ombudsman and request reconsideration. Additional information should be sent to the CBP Trusted Traveler Ombudsman at:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
P.O. Box 946
Williston, VT 05495
Attention: CBP Ombudsman
Calls to the Enrollment Centers or correspondence to the Trusted Traveler Ombudsman should contain supporting information that can demonstrate the denial or revocation was based on inaccurate information. Having a criminal record or past violation of CBP laws/regulations/policies may render someone ineligible for participation in the NEXUS program. The NEXUS program has strict criteria for participation.