Five years ago, I was driving around Alexandria running errands for my then-fiancee (now my wife) when my car was wrecked by a power-hungry federal law enforcement official who threatened to arrest me and nearly pulled a gun on me. That agent, Angel Echevarria, was arrested in Florida late last month after he opened fire on a vehicle that allegedly cut him off. One of the occupants in the vehicle was a two-year-old child.
This is the story of an out-of-control federal agent, an agency which did nothing to restrain him despite being warned about his recklessly dangerous behavior, and an innocent child who could’ve died as a result of his actions and those of the criminally incompetent federal agency that to this day appears to still employ him.
On April 11, 2008, I was driving in the far right-hand lane of a four-lane divided road in northern Virginia, when an agent with the Federal Protective Service — an office within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — swerved his patrol car out of his lane and into the driver’s side of my car.
There was zero doubt as to who was at fault in the accident. The DHS agent clearly swerved out of his lane, which was stacked with cars waiting to turn left, and into my lane without looking. It’s an action we’ve all taken before, but unfortunately this time, the lane into which the officer swerved was occupied. By my car.
When I got out of my car to check on the other driver and assess the damage to my car, I assumed it would be a routine interaction. He would apologize, we’d exchange information, and we’d both be on our way.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, I was confronted by Angel Echevarria, an unhinged serial abuser of power who shouted at me, threatened to arrest me, and nearly pulled his gun on me. All for the apparent crime of driving next to him.
After Echevarria wrecked my car, I slowly got out of my car and asked him whether he was okay.
“Are you alright?” I asked. “NO,” he yelled. “What does it look like? My car is wrecked.”
“Well perhaps you should’ve stayed in your lane, then,” I replied.
“I had my blinker on!” he yelled.
“I don’t care if your whole car was blinking, you don’t just get to swerve out of your lane and smash other cars.”
I had no opportunity to view his allegedly activated blinker, seeing as how my car was a good five feet or so ahead of his when the collision happened (he ran his patrol car into the back portion of the driver’s side front door, causing extensive damage all the way to the rear panel of my car).
Was my response a bit much? Perhaps. But I had been minding my own business, doing my best to run errands before trying to catch a flight out of Reagan National that evening, only to have my car wrecked by an impatient officer who apparently thought his badge gave him the right to harass innocent citizens in order to cover up his own shoddy driving.
Echevarria then demanded that I provide him with my identification and proof of insurance, even though he had no jurisdiction over the matter and was, in fact, the reason for the car accident in the first place. I asked him to do the same and provide me with his I.D. and insurance. When he refused to even give me his name, I declined to provide him with my driver’s license given his behavior and previous outbursts. I knew my rights and I knew that as the person at fault, he had no legitimate authority to use his position to intimidate me. He again demanded my information, and I again declined until he provided the same to me.
At that point, Echevarria deliberately moved his hand to his holstered firearm and threatened to arrest me unless I provided him with my I.D. and proof of insurance. This was not because I was a threat (my friends regularly inform me that there’s no way I weigh more than “a buck twenty soaking wet”); it was because he wanted to use his position and his firearm to intimidate me into giving up my rights.
It is difficult to negotiate with a man whose only apparent source of courage is holstered to his waist.
I seriously considered allowing him to arrest me on principle. I knew I had done nothing wrong, and I also knew that the blatantly wrongful arrest of the then-chief investigator for a U.S. senator with oversight of DHS would make quite a news story. But I didn’t pull rank, because pulling rank is what immature, insecure, power-hungry fools do. Not once did I even so much as hint at my professional position.
Instead of using the same intimidation tactics as Echevarria or using my position as a bargaining chip, I gave up and gave in to his demands. At that point, despite not having any authority to do so, Echevarria ran a background check on me from his patrol car, using taxpayer resources to basically spy on me after wrecking my car. Unfortunately for Echevarria, a photographer for the Associated Press witnessed the entire incident and eagerly gave me his contact information.
When I noted to Echevarria that a witness observed the entire incident and that Echevarria was clearly at fault, he completely dismissed my claim and said, “Well, good for you. You found a witness. I’m proud of you.” Pro tip: if you’re a corrupt cop, don’t commit your crimes in front of reporters. Or maybe don’t commit crimes at all. That would be even easier.
When I returned to D.C. the next week, I immediately filed a very long and a very detailed complaint with the DHS inspector general’s (IG) office. An investigator from the IG came to my office and took a sworn affidavit from me.
“The actions of Mr. Echevarria made me feel threatened and gave me reason to believe that he would violate my personal freedoms and liberties in order to cover up the fact that he hit my car,” I wrote in my complaint. “I strongly believe that Mr. Echevarria used his position as an armed federal officer to intimidate me into giving up my rights and liberties.”
That was the last I ever heard from the IG. A couple of years later, when I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all documents related to the IG’s investigation and any disciplinary actions taken against Echevarria as a result of the complaint, the office rejected my request.
Why? Because, they told me, it included personally identifiable information of the person who filed the complaint. That’s right, they rejected my document request because the documents I requested contained my personal information.
Now fast forward to September 7, 2013. According to the NBC affiliate in South Florida:
An off-duty Department of Homeland Security agent was arrested following a road rage incident in which he caught up to a car that had cut him off, pulled out his gun and shot the vehicle as it drove away, Boca Raton Police said.Angel Echevarria, 40, said the driver of the red Toyota struck him and his wife before he fired one round in front of a Nordstrom. He said he was trying to shoot out the tire of the car, according to a probable cause affidavit.A police officer wrote, however, that Echevarria, acting as a civilian, had no legal authority to fire his gun at an occupied vehicle.Police said he faces three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and one count of shooting into an occupied vehicle for the Sept. 7 incident.
From the Florida Sun-Sentinel:
A Pompano Beach man whose car was allegedly shot at by an off-duty federal agent said Thursday it’s a “miracle” that nobody in the car — including his 2-year-old son — was hit by the bullet.Alla Juma, 27, said he thinks Boca Raton police did the right thing by initiating the arrest of Angel Echevarria, a Department of Homeland Security special agent assigned to the U.S. Marshals Service.[…]According to a Boca Raton police probable cause affidavit, Echevarria honked his horn at Juma’s car after Juma cut him off near the Town Center mall.In response, Juma shot up his middle finger. Officers wrote in the affidavit what happened next:Echevarria, driving with his wife and five children, tried to follow Juma’s red Toyota but crashed into the back of another car. Echevarria signaled to the other car to follow him into the mall parking lot. In the mall parking lot near the Nordstrom store, Echevarria saw Juma’s car and parked his black Honda Pilot nose-to-nose with it.The special agent, dressed in civilian clothes, got out of his car, pointed a .40-caliber Sig Sauer handgun at Juma’s car, and announced he was a police officer.Echevarria said Juma sped away, bumping Echevarria and Echevarria’s wife as he drove off, according to the affidavit. The agent fired one round at the Toyota, police said, with the bullet lodging in the rear driver’s side wheel well.
Echevarria now faces three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and one count of firing into an occupied vehicle. Under Florida’s mandatory minimum sentencing requirements, Echevarria faces at least 20 years in prison for each assault count if he is convicted.
For years, top DHS officials — including those working in the Secretary’s office — knew of Echevarria’s behavior, and yet they did nothing to mitigate the obvious danger that he posed to society. But the cover-ups didn’t stop there.
One Florida news site, BocaNewsNow.com, reported that DHS officials may have even attempted to cover up Echevarria’s arrest and hide it from the public (Echevarria was not recorded as having been arrested by Florida law enforcement until more than two weeks after the incident).
“Instead of turning himself into Boca Police,” the site reported, “Echevarria turned himself into fellow federal agents who may have ‘worked the system’ in a way to keep his arrest record hidden until BocaNewsNow.com demanded the information through a Freedom Of Information Act request.”
According to the site:
Boca Raton Police issued a warrant for Echevarria’s arrest. But Ecchevarria refused to deal with the Boca Raton Police Department, instead turning himself into his colleagues at the US Marshal’s Service. As BocaNewsNow.com reported exclusively, this kept his arrest information from being made public. The Palm Beach County jail booking system interprets an arrest by a federal agent as federal arrest — something that should only be released by federal officials. However, Echevarria was a county prisoner and the information should have been made public immediately, under Florida Statute 119. By turning himself into colleagues at the US Marshal’s service, Eschevarria appeared to be a federal prisoner.
And five years after an official complaint with the IG noted that Echevarria made wholly inappropriate moves to his firearm to intimidate one of Echevarria’s own victims, DHS allowed him to retain his firearm.
According to news accounts, it was his official service weapon that Echevarria fired at three unarmed vehicle occupants, one of whom was a two-year-old child.
In 2012, based on a Daily Caller article I wrote about the 2008 incident, I was contacted by a private investigator who claimed that Echevarria had been using his power as a federal law enforcement official to harass one of the investigator’s clients. The investigator wanted to know if I would be willing to testify in court about Echevarria’s history of abusing his power to intimidate people who got in his way (the matter was apparently solved out of court, as I was never summoned to testify).
How many other abuses of power did Echevarria commit that his superiors at DHS dutifully covered up? How many other lives may Echevarria have risked in a pathetic quest to prove his manhood? There is simply no way that I was the first person that Echevarria tried to intimidate into giving up his rights. How many young women or elderly citizens did he harass or assault before he was finally arrested? How many more people will he be allowed to victimize before society finally says “Enough!” and throws him in jail for good?
The Department of Homeland Security was created shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to protect Americans from future attacks. Given the tens of billions of dollars it’s received since its creation, it would be nice if the agency would take a little interest in protecting Americans from being attacked by its own incompetent, unhinged, and unstable personnel.