Diego Union Tribune
April 8, 2005
Border prank has local source
Ex-UCSD student may have unlawfully detained Mexican
By Leslie Berestein
and Jerry Kammer
and COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
An apparent publicity stunt by a San Diego prankster volunteering for the anti-illegal-immigration Minuteman Project in Arizona nearly turned into an international incident.
Bryan Barton, a 24-year-old former UCSD student, was questioned by Cochise County sheriff's deputies after an undocumented immigrant alleged Wednesday that Barton and others forced him to pose for a photograph while holding a T-shirt that read, "Bryan Barton Caught Me Crossing the Border and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt."
The T-shirt also featured a similar message in badly butchered Spanish, a picture of Barton and a Web address promoting his Republican bid for Congress.
"It wasn't funny," said Andy Adame, a spokesman for the Border Patrol's Tucson sector. "Illegal immigration is a serious issue, and unfortunately this individual took advantage of the attention that the civilians on patrol have brought to this area and used it as a trampoline to promote his own political agenda."
No charges have been filed against Barton, although the Sheriff's Department investigated the incident as a possible unlawful detention after Jose Sepulveda, a 26-year-old Mexican national, told Border Patrol and Mexican officials that he was held against his will.
The incident, videotaped by Cameron Sawyer, a companion of Barton's from Utah, occurred about midday Wednesday. The tape shows Barton wearing the T-shirt in question, talking into the camera by the side of a road.
Then a young Latino man who appears to be in distress comes into the frame. Barton walks over to meet the man, gives him food and speaks a few words of broken Spanish ("muy delicioso, Wheaties").
Barton tries to call the Border Patrol, but can't seem to find the number. Eventually, a man and woman, apparently other Minuteman volunteers, come along and make a call. The Minuteman Project, which began this week, is a monthlong effort that aims to alert authorities to illegal crossers in the San Pedro River valley in Arizona.
In the video, Barton is seen giving the man money. Then Barton takes off his T-shirt, puts on a different garment and hands the T-shirt – with its message clearly visible – to the illegal immigrant, who takes it.
Adame said a Border Patrol agent arrived just in time to see someone snapping a photo of Sepulveda with the T-shirt held in front of him. After Sepulveda is taken away, Barton says to the camera, "And now Cameron sells the footage to CNN."
Agents at the Border Patrol's Naco station alerted county authorities, as well as the Mexican Consulate and the FBI, after suspecting illegal activity. Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Alma Barth said deputies tracked down and questioned Barton, but after authorities saw the video, the Cochise County Attorney's Office concluded yesterday that there was no indication of an illegal apprehension.
Mexican consular officials said it was too soon to say if any civil action would be taken.
If it was attention Barton wanted, he got it.
"I'm going to go home and continue running for Congress," he said yesterday afternoon, juggling media interviews before heading out of Cochise County.
Barton, described by a sister as "just different," moved to San Diego from the Sacramento area to attend UCSD. A university spokeswoman said he attended between January 2002 and June 2004, but did not graduate.
He was suspended after a prank that involved crashing a student council meeting with squirt guns and water balloons, said a friend, UCSD senior Steve York.
York, who recently had his own troubles after he appeared nude and engaged in sex acts on campus TV, is editor of The Koala, a student magazine that, among other things, has poked fun at minorities. Barton was editor last year.
Barton's sister Gerilyn Ramey, 22, said her brother is neither violent nor racist, but when told of his Arizona stunt, she wasn't entirely surprised.
"It is not uncharacteristic," Ramey said. "He's just my brother."
Barton planned to spend last night at a Tucson motel. Jim Gilchrist, an organizer of the Minuteman Project, said Barton volunteered to leave after apologizing for any embarrassment he might have caused.
"It was an attempt by one of our naive young members to bond with someone from another country," Gilchrist said of the incident. Still, "he should not have done that."
Leslie Berestein: (619) 542-4579; firstname.lastname@example.org