Misuse of a Federal Law Enforcement Data System Leads to Removal

An “ICE” (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) law enforcement officer looked up family and friends in a law enforcement database and as a result had to fight criminal charges and a removal action. Things did not end well for him.

A Deportation Officer at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with Department of Homeland Security got into hot water when he could not contain his curiosity and looked up family and friends in a restricted database. (Camaj v. Department of Homeland Security, CAFC No. 2013-3060 (nonprecedential), 10/16/13)

Mr. Camaj was a law enforcement officer and therefore had access to the “TECS” system (Treasury Enforcement Communication System), which contains “enforcement, inspection and intelligence records relevant to the law enforcement mission of the U.S. Customs Service and other federal agencies which it supports.” (Opinion p. 2)

He was criminally charged with accessing TECS without authorization. Camaj entered into an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in which he admitted to making 314 queries in the system involving him, family and friends, knowing they were not authorized. The criminal matter did not address a previous 133 unauthorized queries he made in earlier years. (p. 2)

Once the criminal matter was disposed of, the agency removed Camaj for misusing the government database and for conduct unbecoming. (p. 3)

One issue on appeal was whether the deciding official had talked to Camaj’s immediate superiors when he determined the removal penalty. The Merit Systems Protection Board judge explored the allegation and concluded that the deciding official did not have any improper communications with those supervisors concerning the penalty. (p.4)

Camaj took his argument to the appeals court that there had been an improper ex parte communication between the deciding official and his supervisors that violated his due process rights. Not so says the court, pointing out that it Carmaj had failed to establish such a fact at the administrative level and that the court defers to the MSPB’s findings.  As for Carmaj’s additional argument that the deciding official did not properly apply the Douglas factors in coming up with the removal penalty, the court agreed with the government, holding that there was ample evidence to support removal and that the agency had “weighed all relevant Douglas factors and the penalty does not exceed the limits of reasonableness and is within the sound discretion of the agency.” (p. 7)

The outcome of this case is probably not surprising to readers in law enforcement circles.

Camaj v. DHS

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.