Texas National Guard Member Charged With Migrant Smuggling - The World News

Texas National Guard Member Charged With Migrant Smuggling

A silver sport utility vehicle, driving at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour, led the police on a 15-mile chase over the weekend near the U.S. border with Mexico in an area that has long been popular with migrant smugglers.

The scene ended on Sunday afternoon as many such pursuits do, with a migrant fleeing on foot and a driver captured, forced to stop by spikes that the police had stretched across the highway.

But while the circumstances were familiar, the identity of the driver was much more unusual: He was a member of the Texas Army National Guard.

The arrest marked at least the second time in less than a year that soldiers had been caught trying to transport migrants from the border in Texas. Last June, two soldiers, including one from the Louisiana National Guard, were arrested and charged with trying to smuggle migrants through the same area of rural ranch land in Kinney County.

The man arrested on Sunday, Savion Amari Donovan Johnson, was described by law enforcement officials as a National Guard soldier, but it was not clear whether he had been deployed to the area as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security program known as Operation Lone Star.

“He was National Guard,” said Sheriff Brad Coe of Kinney County, whose deputies helped make the arrest. “I believe he was a public information officer. That’s what I was told.”

Sheriff Coe said that the migrant was being transported in an official vehicle with official equipment associated with the border security mission. “My understanding is that he did have his Operation Lone Star gear in the vehicle,” Mr. Coe said in an interview.

“It’s not a good thing. But he’s not the first one we’ve picked up that’s associated with the National Guard,” Mr. Coe added. “We’ve picked up attorneys. Preachers. Old ones, young ones, juveniles. The money is out there.”

A spokesman for the Texas Military Department would not discuss the case or confirm Mr. Johnson’s status with the organization.

The arrest recalled prior episodes in which federal Border Patrol agents have been charged with smuggling undocumented immigrants or illicit drugs at the border with Mexico.

The number of state law enforcement and National Guard members assigned to the border has jumped dramatically over the last two years as part of Mr. Abbott’s efforts to enhance border security. Thousands of National Guard members have been assigned to patrol positions along the border, and to construct fencing and concertina wire barriers to deter people trying to cross without authorization from Mexico.

“If the allegations are true, the accused is a traitor and criminal,” Andrew Mahaleris, Mr. Abbott’s press secretary, said in a statement. “The accused’s illegal smuggling may subject him to a mandatory minimum prison sentence of at least 10 years. He deserves more.”

Mr. Johnson, 26, was arrested by Texas Department of Public Safety officers, assigned to the border as part of Operation Lone Star, and sheriff’s deputies from Kinney County. He was charged with human smuggling, felony evading arrest and unlawful weapons possession.

According to a police affidavit, a state trooper tried to pull Mr. Johnson over in a silver GMC sport utility vehicle for going over the speed limit on a local farm road. At that point, around 3:40 p.m. on Sunday, the GMC sped away and the trooper drove after it. After the vehicles turned onto a state highway, the chase reached speeds above 100 miles an hour, according to the affidavit.

At one point, the S.U.V. slowed and stopped so that a man could run away on foot, and then continued. It finally stopped after hitting spikes that had been put across the road by the police, according to the affidavit. The affidavit noted that the police had made contact with Mr. Johnson’s sergeant to alert him of the arrest.

Mr. Johnson could not immediately be reached for comment, and it was not clear whether he had retained a lawyer as of Wednesday. The migrant who fled was later captured, officials said.

Hamed Aleaziz contributed reporting.

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