Border Agents Seized American Citizen’s Truck, Never Charged Him With A Crime
When Gerardo Serrano took photos of a border crossing on September 21, 2015, he had no idea he would soon be handcuffed, thrown into a detention cell and see his truck seized by government agents that very same day. During his ordeal, when Gerardo protested how his rights were being violated, one agent bluntly responded that he was “sick of hearing about your rights…you have no rights here.”
Two years later, Gerardo still has not recovered his truck or even had his day in court to challenge the seizure. Nor has he been charged with any crime.
But this scene, straight from an authoritarian nightmare, didn’t play out in Syria or Venezuela. Gerardo’s Ford F-250 was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Eagle Pass, Texas.
“When the agents told me they were seizing my truck, I said ‘No, you’re not seizing my truck, you’re stealing my truck!’” Gerardo recalled. “I didn’t think that this could happen in America. It felt like they were thugs with badges.”
Thanks to the nation’s civil forfeiture laws, law enforcement agencies can seize—and keep—property, even if the owner is never convicted or indicted. Determined to vindicate his rights, Gerardo joined with the Institute for Justice and filed a class-action lawsuit against the CBP on behalf of other car owners.
What happened to Gerardo is not an isolated incident. At just four border crossings in Texas, CBP agents seized 525 vehicles from American citizens and lawful residents in 2015. A victory in Gerardo’s case would mean restoring due-process rights for hundreds, if not thousands, of other car owners nationwide.
“Of course I want my truck back, but that’s not why I’m filing this lawsuit,” Gerardo said. “I’m doing this for my children and the thousands of other Americans who should never have to go through what I’ve gone through.”
Almost two years ago, Gerardo was driving down to meet his cousin, who lives right across the border in Piedra Nagras, Mexico. Although members of his family are Mexican, Gerardo is an American citizen, who now owns a farm in the Kentucky countryside. Ever the consummate entrepreneur, Gerardo also wanted to discuss plans to bring his cousin’s solar panel business stateside.
When he reached the border crossing in Eagle Pass, Texas, Gerardo decided to snap some pictures with his iPhone to post on Facebook. Two CBP agents quickly stopped his truck and forced him out, before handcuffing Gerardo and demanding that he unlock his phone.
Meanwhile, other agents searched his car. Inside, they found five 0.380 caliber bullets and a SIG Sauer magazine of the same caliber. Based solely on those bullets and magazine, the CBP seized the vehicle. The agency would later claim that the truck was transporting “munitions of war” and had to be forfeited.
But Gerardo is a lawful gun owner, not a weapons smuggler. Gerardo has a concealed-carry permit from Kentucky, which has reciprocity for Texas and the other states he drove through on his trip.