Customs officer fired for racism
A Grand Forks man who was fired from U.S. Customs and Border Protection for sending racist letters on his own time is suing the federal agency for violating his free speech rights.
U.S. Customs said the Grand Forks man was fired for breaking the agency's conduct rules prohibiting employees from making racist comments.
Douglas Sczygelski, who inspected agriculture-related traffic at the border crossing in Pembina, N.D., sent hundreds of letters to students at The Ohio State University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Rhode Island.
The letters expressed the 46-year-old's belief that "on average, blacks are less intelligent than whites, and the reason why is genetic," federal court records say.
Customs and Border Protection officials terminated Sczygelski's internship last April, saying his letters, which attracted media attention, violated the agency's standards of conduct, according to a letter filed in U.S. District Court.
"I have serious concerns that your actions will lead to diminished respect for CPB (Customs and Border Protection) and will interfere with our important law enforcement mission," wrote Michele M. James, director of field operations, in the letter firing Sczygelski.
A sampling of Sczygelski's writings reveals comments such as:
Without abortion, "black birth rates will rise. That's the last thing we need."
"Clinton was crazy enough to believe blacks and whites were equal in ability and he could turn Somalia into a decent country."
"If blacks are just as smart as whites, why is there no school on Earth where normal black kids do just as well as normal white kids?"
In the letter of termination, James also wrote that Sczygelski misused a government computer to access foreign dating Web sites specifically for Albanian and Korean people.
Sczygelski, who has a law degree from the University of Wisconsin and is representing himself, says in court papers he should not have been fired because he wrote the letters outside of work and did not send them to anyone at work.
He says his firing is a violation of his First Amendment rights.
Sczygelski also claims the firing was illegal because "it was motivated by racial bias against the plaintiff" and because the punishment was grossly disproportionate to the offense.
Sczygelski declined comment for this story.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in North Dakota filed a motion last week on behalf of Customs and Border Protection to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming Sczygelski failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.
The motion also says the federal court does not have jurisdiction over the matter.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shon Hastings, who is handling the case, was traveling Friday and unavailable for comment.
Customs and Border Protection officials do not comment on pending lawsuits, said press officer Mike Milne.
In a deposition filed in court, Sczygelski said he has sent as many as 1,000 letters to college students to influence public opinion and generate media interest.
Three similar letters filed in court were about 900 words of his views on blacks and ended with Sczygelski's name and Pembina post office box number. He requested people send $2 for more information.
Ohio State students received such letters in three residence halls in January 2006 and seven halls in April 2007, spokesman Jim Lynch said.
School officials delivered the letters, addressed only to "Occupant," because they're required to deliver the mail, Lynch said. However, they also delivered a note that said school officials strongly object to the content of the letters.
"We probably expect to see more letters next year," Lynch said. "This individual probably thrives on the media attention, and it does get media attention."
Major newspapers and television stations in Ohio and Indiana have reported on the letters.
In the deposition, Sczygelski acknowledges sending letters to Notre Dame students last January, as well as letters to Rhode Island students in spring 2007.
When asked during the deposition if he used a government computer to research where to send letters, Sczygelski responded "perhaps" and "yes."
U.S. Customs claims Sczygelski's actions interfered with the work environment because co-workers discussed the mailings and one requested a copy.
It's unclear from the documents why Sczygelski directed the letters to the three universities. He says he did not send letters to anyone in North Dakota or Minnesota.
Sczygelski said in the deposition he has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin and a master's degree from Ohio University, in addition to his law degree.
When asked in the deposition why he applied for an intern position with U.S. Customs, Sczygelski said he could not get a job as a lawyer, and applied for lots of jobs before getting the internship.
Sczygelski is still writing to college students.
The latest batch of his letters arrived at an Ohio State residence hall less than two weeks ago.
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and DL Newspapers are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.