An apparent case of road rage prompted a federal agent to point a gun at a woman as she was driving on Interstate 15 with her 2-year-old son in the back seat, the woman said.
California Highway Patrol officers investigating the July 6 incident identified the man involved as a plainclothes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. The federal agency said in a Thursday statement that it was "cooperating fully" with the investigation.
"ICE holds its personnel to the highest professional standards and has zero tolerance for employees who violate the public's trust," spokeswoman Lauren Mack said.
Felicia Ocampo, 31, said she was on her way home from a camping trip when she noticed a silver Ford Focus coming up fast behind her.
The driver started tailgating her, she said, so she sped up to get away from him. Before long, the two motorists were weaving in and out of traffic. At one point, he boxed her in between two vehicles. Later, she tapped her brakes when he started tailgating her again.
Both cars were going fast, she said.
"I didn't know why this guy was messing with me," she said. "I was going to do anything to get away from him. He was driving erratically. It was like he was trying to harm my car or run me off the road."
She decided to move over to the slow lane, in the hopes he would pass her by. Instead, he pulled alongside her. She said she rolled down her window, made an obscene gesture and angrily asked what he was doing.
He responded by brandishing a handgun.
"He pointed the gun at me and said, 'Pull the … over or I'm going to shoot you,' " the Escondido woman said. She said he then put on a black Kevlar vest.
She said there was nothing about the Ford Focus that suggested he was a member of law enforcement, but she decided to pull over. After he pulled up behind her and appeared at her window, "I start to yell, 'What are you doing? You're scaring me!' " she said. "Then he said, 'If you don't shut your mouth, I'm going to put my gun in it and shut it for you.' "
She said he admonished her for speeding and told her that she was lucky he didn't detain her. The man asked her for her driver's license and proof of insurance, Ocampo said, then walked back to his car. At no point did he identify himself or say what agency he was with, she said.
When the man returned, his demeanor had changed. He told her it was her "lucky day," she said, and that the emergency lights in his car weren't working and he didn't have a citation book in his car. Then he smiled and apologized.
She said she apologized, too, and quickly drove off as he walked back to his car. Ocampo's mother, who had listened in via her daughter's cellphone as the incident progressed, called 911 soon after.
CHP Officer Jake Sanchez said it was too early to say whether charges would be filed. No one has been arrested.
There are occasions in which federal agents may make traffic stops on a highway, Sanchez said. An agent might choose to pull someone over if a driver is endangering other motorists, for example.
Immigration attorney Matt Holt said California law limits the ability of federal agents in the state to arrest people for violations of California and local laws. And they do not have the capability to write traffic tickets. He also said case law has established that immigration agents need to have a reasonable suspicion that a violation of an immigration law occurred in order to pull someone over.
Winkley writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.