Discipline Recommended for Two Border Patrol Agents in Medvid Case
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The No. 2 official of the Immigration and Naturalization Service moved Monday to demote and suspend without pay two Border Patrol agents involved in the premature return of a would-be Soviet defector to his ship.
Associate Commissioner Thomas C. Ferguson proposed the discipline for two unidentified agents in the New Orleans, La., area sector and also proposed a letter of reprimand for a supervisor there.
Under Civil Service rules, those proposed for punishment will have 10 days to respond. Alan C. Nelson, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, would make the final decision. Any disciplinary action which Nelson might take could then be appealed after 30 days to the Merit Systems Protection Board.
Justice Department spokesman Patrick Korten said the agency was not disclosing the identities of those for whom the discipline was proposed.
The recommendation by Ferguson followed an internal investigation by the INS and a review by the Justice Department, its parent agency, involving the hasty return of merchant seaman Miroslav Medvid to his 810-foot grain freighter on Oct. 25.
The Reagan administration has come under sharp criticism in Congress and among Ukrainian-American groups for its handling of the apparent attempt by Medvid to defect to the United States on Oct. 24.
Medvid, 25, leaped into the Mississippi River from his ship, the Marshal Koniev, and subsequently jumped from another boat being used to ferry him back to the freighter. Border Patrol agents twice returned him to the Soviet ship, even though a Ukrainian interpreter used by the INS on a contract basis had told officials that Medvid wanted political asylum.
The interpreter, Irene Padoch of New York, said she concluded that Medvid, although upset over his detention by U.S. authorities, wanted to defect.
The ship, with Medvid aboard, left a grain dock in Reserve, La., on Nov. 9 for the Soviet Union.
Ferguson recommended demotions of two grades, from grade nine on the Civil Service pay schedule to grade seven, for the two Border Patrol agents, at a salary cut that could range from $4,000 to $11,000 a year. A suspension without pay for 90 days was recommended for one of the agents, and 45 days without pay for the other.
″In addition to the disciplinary action, the two will be reassigned to another duty station and sent for two weeks to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Ga. for retraining in their responsibilities,″ the immigration service said.
It said that ″because of the nature of this incident,″ the investigation was handled by the Washington headquarters of the INS rather than in the New Orleans Border Patrol sector.
Ferguson said he recommended the disciplinary action because the agents failed to follow proper procedures in their handling of Medvid.
″The INS district director was not contacted, no supervisory review of the decision to return the seaman was sought, and neither the INS headquarters nor the Department of State was informed, as called for in the INS instructions to its officers,″ he said.
The INS said Medvid had been returned to the freighter despite several ″warning signals″ that should have led agents to immediately follow instructions on how to deal with political asylum cases.
Among the immigration service’s findings was that ″Mr. Medvid’s Soviet nationality was an unusual factor and should have raised questions about the assumption that he was a routine ship-jumper.″
In addition to the disciplinary actions proposed for the two unidentified Border Patrol agents, the INS said, Ferguson proposed that a letter of reprimand be put in the personnel file of the ″morning supervisor″ in the New Orleans office.
″This reprimand is given because the morning supervisor took unauthorized medical leave without selecting an officer to be in charge in his place with responsibility to review the files of the night shift,″ the agency said. ″The supervisor’s conduct, while having no bearing on the return of Mr. Medvid the evening before, was in violation of INS procedures.″
In addition to the recommended disciplinary actions, the INS said that at the direction of Attorney General Edwin Meese III, it has initiated a ″management review to assess the need for changes in procedures for the handling of asylum cases and the training of INS personnel.″