The U.S. Court of Appeals has dismissed a case brought by an Air Force officer against two Border Patrol agents whom the officer claimed unlawfully detained him at a Uvalde County, Texas, immigration checkpoint five years ago.
Richard Rynearson argued the agents waited too long to ask about his citizenship and intentionally extended his detainment during the March 2010 stop some 70 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.
"We have not discovered nor been shown any authority supporting Rynearson's claim that the constitutional rights he chose to stand on were clearly established," the Fifth Circuit appeals court wrote in its 2-1 ruling Feb. 26. "Accordingly, we conclude that these government officials, at worst, made reasonable but mistaken judgments when presented with an unusually uncooperative person."
In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Elrod said Rynearson began cooperating within two minutes of the stop by providing two forms of identification.
He "explained several times that he would not indulge the officers' commands when he thought that they exceeded the limited scope of the immigration checkpoint inquiry," Elrod wrote. "Standing on one's rights is not an 'unorthodox tactic.' It is a venerable American tradition."
At the outset of the nearly 35-minute ordeal – which Rynearson captured on video and uploaded to YouTube – he is asked by an agent whether he owns the car he is driving. He is not asked whether he is a U.S. citizen.
Rynearson answers through a nearly-closed driver's side window that the car belongs to him; the agent, identified in court documents as Justin Lands, next tells him to pull over to a secondary inspection area, where he is ordered to exit the vehicle.
Rynearson refuses to get out of the car or to open his window any further despite Land's repeated requests that he do so. After about a minute, Rynearson sticks his driver's license and military ID at the base of the window. He asks several times why he is being detained and whether he is free to go.
Lands eventually tells Rynearson he isn't satisfied he's a U.S. citizen and accuses Rynearson of being "evasive." When Rynearson points out he has offered up two forms of ID, the agent says "that doesn't mean anything. Those aren't immigration documents."
They squabble for about eight minutes before Lands leaves to find a supervisor. Meanwhile, Rynearson puts his passport in the window along with his military ID and driver's license.
Nearly 20 minutes later, Supervisory Patrol Agent Raul Perez arrives and asks for his passport and the name of his commanding officer.
Rynearson hands his IDs over but refuses to give Perez his supervisor's name, saying he has no right to interfere in Rynearson's employment.
Perez says he's going to check out the passport; Rynearson waits for another 13 minutes or so for Perez to return.
"Next time, just be a little more cooperative," Perez says. "Roll down your window next time."
By the time Rynearson was cleared to leave, more than half an hour had passed.
Rynearson initially filed an administrative claim – later dismissed – with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, requesting $500,000 in damages for negligence, false arrest and imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendment rights.
He next filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, accusing Agents Lands and Perez of violating his Fourth Amendment right against unlawful searches and seizures.
The district court ruled Lands and Perez were entitled to qualified immunity because Rynearson did not prove that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated during the stop. The appeals court agreed.
Efforts to reach Rynearson through email and Facebook were not immediately successful.
He told TheNewspaper.com in a story published Tuesday he had not yet decided whether to appeal.
"I am disappointed by the decision and I am considering my options for further review," Rynearson was quoted as saying. He was identified as an Air Force major in the story.
According to Rynearson's blog, www.pickyourbattles.net, he is a command pilot who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan eight times as a close air support attack pilot.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with valor for actions taken on March 20, 2003.