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Border Patrol agent sentenced to probation for federal civil rights violation

A Border Patrol agent who pushed a woman against a wall and forced her to stop filming law enforcement officers was sentenced to probation Tuesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker sentenced Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Adriana Gandarilla, 45, of San Benito to two years probation.

Gandarilla will spend the first 60 days on home confinement. She must also pay a $2,500 fine.

“From the very beginning, I accepted responsibility,” Gandarilla said. “And if I could go back, I think I would take back my actions.”

On Tuesday afternoon, when she appeared for sentencing, Gandarilla remained employed by Border Patrol.

Gandarilla said Border Patrol had taken away her gun and placed her on administrative duty without access to computers. The Rio Grande Valley Sector declined to comment.

“Obviously, her career with Border Patrol is on thin ice at this point,” said attorney Rey Merino of McAllen, who represents Gandarilla.

Prosecutors charged Gandarilla after an incident on May 6, 2018, when Border Patrol agents chased a car through La Joya.

The driver crashed on the 900 block of South Garza Street. Several people jumped from the car and ran away.

Border Patrol agents, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and La Joya Police Department officers ran after them.

Gandarilla asked a woman — identified in court records as “M.P.” — for permission to search a nearby house. The woman agreed.

“Using her cell phone, victim M.P. began recording Agent Gandarilla and other law enforcement officers as they searched for and collected firearms in the main residence. Agent Gandarilla instructed victim M.P. several times not to record her, yet victim M.P. persisted in recording,” according to the factual basis for the plea, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Edwards read aloud in court on Sept. 18, 2020, when Gandarilla pleaded guilty. “Frustrated, Agent Gandarilla grabbed victim M.P. by the neck and then by the arms and pushed her backwards against the front wall of the main residence while repeatedly ordering her to delete the video. Victim M.P. then complied.”

When she pleaded guilty, Gandarilla said she didn’t remember grabbing the woman by the neck.

Prosecutors charged Gandarilla with deprivation of rights under color of law, a federal misdemeanor. She apparently struck an informal agreement with the government.

“While there’s no written plea agreement, there were discussions between the government and Ms. Gandarilla’s defense attorney about charging this crime as a misdemeanor versus a felony if Ms. Gandarilla proceeded expeditiously to a plea in this case,” Edwards said during the Sept. 18 hearing.

Gandarilla appeared for sentencing Tuesday afternoon by videoconference.

During the sentencing hearing, she apologized to Border Patrol and the community for letting them down.

“I regret that I lost my cool, that I was unprofessional, that I was disrespectful to her,” Gandarilla said.

Hacker, the federal magistrate judge, called the incident disturbing.

“It’s also troubling because Agent Gandarilla is a supervisory Border Patrol agent and it occurred in front of at least seven other agents,” Hacker said, along with other law enforcement officers.

Documents submitted to the court, however, showed Gandarilla had a stellar record in the military and with Border Patrol before the incident, Hacker said. She also received at least one letter of support from a coworker.

“Agent Gandarilla, after 19 or so years, should have had the poise to stand there and let the citizen record,” Hacker said.

While she faced a maximum of one year in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office recommended that Gandarilla be sentenced to probation with 90 to 120 days of home confinement.

Hacker sentenced Gandarilla to two years probation with 60 days home confinement, a $2,500 fine and 100 hours of community service.

If she pays the fine and performs all 100 hours of community service within the first year, Hacker said he would consider terminating Gandarilla’s probation early.

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