President Biden's pick to lead Customs and Border Protection (CBP) once faced allegations that he had discriminated against Black officers and made racist jokes at work – claims that were ultimately rejected by a jury and described by the nominee as "entirely bogus."
The lawsuit, which covered claims going back to 2006 and 2007 and was eventually rejected in 2012 by a jury, could prove to be an issue for Chris Magnus at a time when Democrats and even some Biden administration officials have been seeking to drum up accusations of racism against Border Patrol – which CBP oversees.
A 2007 lawsuit filed by seven Black cops in Richmond, California, where Magnus was then police chief, alleged that officers were blocked from advancing and that Magnus made racist jokes. The jury sided with the police department and Magnus denied the claims against him. The claims continued in a subsequent federal lawsuit, which included new accusations.
According to Mercury News, Magnus was accused of telling a Black officers to picture a coworker in leather boots and cracking a whip while saying "Dance jigaboo dance."
He is also said to have asked whether Juneteenth was a "holiday for shooting people." According to Mercury News, Magnus admitted that he made the remarks but claimed that the command staff was talking about how to prepare for holidays that are often accompanied by vandalism and shooting – Magnus is said not to have known about the holiday’s significance when he made the remark.
He was also accused of joking to a Black officer who offered him a ride to work that it would "be just like ‘Driving Miss Daisy’" – a movie about a white woman and her black chauffeur.
The lawsuit also alleged that he changed the process for screening applicants to the investigations bureau to prevent Black applicants. Meanwhile, a presentation by Magnus on racial issues in the department is said to have become confrontational and critical of his leadership.
Magnus said in court that he lost his temper at one point and told staff "‘I’m going to make your life a living hell," according to the Richmond Confidential.
The jury ultimately rejected the lawsuit, and in a recent interview with the New York Times, Magnus called the claims "entirely bogus" and linked it to him being a gay man.
"There were still people at that time who felt I'm an easier target because I’m a gay man," he said. "That’s not the first time in my career I’ve experienced that."
Two years later after the lawsuit was rejected, in 2014, Magnus drew controversy when he was pictured with a Black Lives Matter sign.
Magnus was in front of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday for his confirmation hearing, and was asked a plethora of questions – including about images of Border Patrol agents on horseback blocking Haitian migrants which Democrats said they found unacceptable.
The images initially drew false claims, including from the White House, that agents whipped migrants. But agents and other officials have noted that agents were simply using their reins to control the horses. However, an investigation is ongoing into the claims and Democrats and Biden officials have linked the images to the U.S. history of slavery and racism since the Haitian migrants are Black.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that the images "painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation's ongoing battle against systemic racism."
On Tuesday, Magnus described the images as "troubling" while saying that conclusions should not be drawn until the investigation is complete. He did not say what it was about the images he found troubling.