08:39 PM CDT on Sunday, August 26, 2007
Associated Press

McALLEN, Texas – A border customs supervisor demoted for a blundering shift that included a stolen car slipping through a checkpoint and releasing detained foreign travelers waiting on background checks has filed a lawsuit claiming he was unfairly stripped of his title.

Rolando Cano, who also watched as a fugitive escaped from custody and ran back to Mexico that same night in June 2003, doesn't dispute the many lapses in the lawsuit filed in federal court.

But in court filings, the 51-year-old maintains that he can only be held responsible for his actions and not the errors of his employees. His suit names Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and seeks $3.3 million in damages.

"I am not a baby sitter," he told a review board, according to transcripts obtained by the McAllen Monitor.

Attorney for Cano and the federal government refused interview requests by the newspaper.

In the suit, Cano states he was unfairly demoted based on his race and ethnicity. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials said the only reason for Cano's demotion was his "complete lack of supervisory direction and oversight."

According to court records, among the mistakes by customs agents at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge that night were releasing four East Indian nationals before background checks had been completed.

Hours later, a California fugitive broke out of an unguarded holding pen and ran across the bridge into Mexico as customs agents scrambled to deal with a stolen car that had slipped through an inspection check point.

A pretrial hearing in Cano's lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 7.