Borderland handyman faces prison term for removing illegal aliens from neighbor’s property

When an illegal advances toward him, he draws his pistol

As McCoy was preparing to enjoy a day of hiking and outdoor work on Nov. 11, his plans were suddenly interrupted by the message about illegal aliens in the area. He had already heard that other border crossers had recently stolen Billy Grossman’s pickup truck, and he wasn’t going to sit still and let something like that happen again.

Derrick McCoy, 20, told four illegal aliens that he would drive them to Tucson in order to keep them calm until he could turn them over to Border Patrol. He was arrested for transporting illegal aliens for financial gain. [Photo by Huey Freeman]
Cynthia Jones, who lives across the road from the Grossman’s, was the one who first informed her neighbors of the presence of four men “dressed like hunters,” apparently illegal aliens.

“When they showed up I told them, ‘Don’t come in the yard because the dogs bite, and Billy and Anna’s dogs bite so don’t go in their yard,’” Jones said.

She got into her truck, locked the doors and cracked the window just enough to talk with them.

“They told me they were lost. I told them where Highway 80 was,” she recalled.

When they asked her for a ride, she turned them down. She called David Robinson, who also lives in the rural community near Portal, and asked him to call the U.S. Border Patrol, because she did not have the number of the federal law enforcement agency.

An illegal alien told McCoy they were knocking on the door of a nearby house. [Video by Huey Freeman]

Robinson called Border Patrol and also texted McCoy, knowing that BP agents might not arrive for awhile. The nearest BP stations, in Douglas and Lordsburg, NM, are both about 50 miles away from this high desert area, located a few miles northeast of the tiny town of Apache and about 27 miles from the Mexican border.

Ranches, mobile homes and other buildings are scattered throughout the scenic San Bernardino Valley, between the Chiricahua and Peloncillo mountain ranges, a well-traveled route for drug smugglers and other border crossers. The metal Normandy-style fence that separates the nations in this region is about three feet high and could easily be transversed by a three-year old child.

As McCoy drove toward the Grossman house, just a couple minutes away on two-lane dirt roads, he spotted four men in camouflage gear concealed by a dense mesquite bush.

“I asked them to come over to this side of the fence,” said McCoy, a slender man with black hair, an olive complexion, wearing a mustache and a faint goatee. “Then they started speaking in Spanish.”

There were three young men who appeared to be in their teens or twenties, and one older man, 60 or so. One of the younger men spoke English and translated for the others. They came out of the desert, onto the roadway.

“I was keeping my distance from them. The older gentleman kept walking toward me,” McCoy said. “He kept waving his hands, talking with his hands. He kept getting closer and closer.”

McCoy drew his pistol from its holster and pointed it at the ground in front of him.

“I told them to lay down and to start listening. That’s when they all four laid down there.”

The English-speaking man, who McCoy believes was the youngest, told him “they went to a house and were knocking on a door.”

McCoy surmised that this was the Grossman house.

“I wanted to make sure that none of Billy’s belongings were stolen while he was away at work,” McCoy said. “He asked me to take care of his two horses, four dogs and about five cats while he was away.”

After receiving a text that said four illegals were a threat to a neighbor woman, McCoy found them near a mesquite bush. [Photo by Huey Freeman]
The Border Patrol, a branch of Homeland Security, is the agency assigned to apprehend illegal aliens. Their green-and-white vehicles are a familiar sight in the area, but it is unpredictable as to where they might be at any time. McCoy said he has seen Border Patrol vehicles in the area, but never spoke with an agent before that day.

McCoy was looking forward to spending the weekend with Emma Head, a 21-year-old senior at Western New Mexico University in Silver City.  When McCoy told Head that he would spend part of the weekend taking care of the neighbor’s animals “she wanted to be with me to do that.” He knew that she was nearby and would probably arrive at about 9 a.m. They had been talking on the phone all morning as she drove, with McCoy using the reliable land line in his home.

“We were planning to go to meet up to go to South Fork to go hiking,” said Head, a Silver City native majoring in rehabilitation and occupational therapy. “We were probably going to grab some lunch at the tavern in Rodeo and then maybe go to Bill Miller’s and cut firewood.”

She said she likes to help McCoy out with his business, which includes construction and home repair. Much of his income comes from selling firewood, which he sells for $300 a cord.

“The time before we sold a couple of cords of firewood,” Head said. “We went and delivered it to the residents in Portal. Then we built a chicken pen for the people we delivered the wood to.”

The morning of Nov. 11, she got a phone call from McCoy, while driving toward his house. She was about 35 miles away.

“He told me to talk to Coni, because the Border Patrol were there and taking him already, ” she said. “He couldn’t say anything else.”

She went to the house, but nobody was there.

“I was wondering what happened,” Head said. “I was pretty mad that he wasn’t there. I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I was really worried.”

Head said she believes McCoy’s story of what happened that morning.

“He doesn’t like to tell lies,” Head said. “He’s a straight shooter to me about talking about things. That’s why all this is so crazy to me.”

She said this is shocking to her, because he was just trying to be a good citizen, and do the job he needed to do at the time.

“He hasn’t been over there very long,” she said. “He didn’t have any bad motive. There is no reason he would do what they say he did. He’s a good person and he’s real honest and he would not do that. It’s crazy that they’re trying to pin all that on him. It’s real unnecessary. It doesn’t make sense.”

McCoy said he never had any intention of driving with the illegals any farther than the first Border Patrol agent he encountered. He said he never told the illegals to get down. What would have been the point of that, as he stopped his vehicle, with a large crowd of agents in the vicinity?

The criminal complaint, signed with an unidentifiable squiggle by a unnamed Border Patrol agent, contains several curious statements. It says that McCoy “initially told BPA (Border Patrol Agent) he had not seen or spoken to anyone but that there were four individuals on the road up ahead. BPA approached the vehicle and observed four individuals laying down in the back seat.”

Unlike most documents involving law enforcement officers, the name of that specific BPA is not included in the complaint. In fact, none of the BP agents are named in that complaint, an anomaly among law enforcement documents.

The idea that anyone with an ounce of sense would stop his vehicle for about 15 law enforcement vehicles and then lie about whether there were four grown men in his vehicle is worthy of a Marx Brothers comedy movie, but does not resemble anything that would happen in the real world, when an officer is in contact with an honest, sober citizen.

When asked by the Arizona Daily Independent if he ever told the illegals to “get down” in his vehicle, McCoy said, “I didn’t talk to the illegals at all, but the one boy kept asking if I was going to take him to Tucson. I kept saying, ‘Yes, that was fine.’ That is all. That is the only conversation we had in our vehicle.”

McCoy said he told the illegals that he would take them to Tucson in order to keep them quiet until he could turn them over to Border Patrol.

Derrick McCoy had just made the turn onto Many Wells Road (foreground), when a contingent of Border Patrol vehicles sped toward him [Photo by Huey Freeman]
McCoy was driving with the illegals for one minute or so, when he turned the corner from Painted Pony Road to Many Wells Road, heading west toward Highway 80.

As soon as he made the turn, he saw a string of about 15 Border Patrol vehicles headed toward him. The lead vehicle drove right past him, traveling at about 30 or 35 mph on the dirt road.

“There wasn’t a way for him to stop for me unless I pulled in front of his car, which would have caused an accident,” McCoy said. “I slammed on my brakes and opened my driver’s door. I opened the door and got out of my vehicle. There was another (unmarked) vehicle with a female agent. I told her I encountered four illegal immigrants.”

McCoy said he was happy to see the Border Patrol agents, because the only intention he had in transporting them was to turn them over to Border Patrol, so he could get on with having the day he had planned with Emma Head.

‘I was very happy that I ran into Border Patrol that soon.’ [Video by Huey Freeman]

McCoy lives with John and Coni Hargrave, a retired couple who moved 530 miles from the Aztec, NM, area during the summer. The move was made because John, 69, whose most recent job was as a state livestock inspector, has a serious heart condition which necessitated living at a lower altitude. Coni worked for 13 years for the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office as an animal control officer, after four years as director of the animal shelter operated by the Aztec Police Department.

The couple has five grown children and consider McCoy as their sixth. Although they have no biological or legal connection, they consider him as their son, someone they are proud of for his strong work ethic, honesty and unselfish willingness to help others.

The Hargraves met McCoy at the home of an elderly couple in Aztec, good friends who had known Derrick for almost his whole life. He was doing some work for them. The Hargraves needed help with their move, a tremendous task that entailed 13 trips from rural Aztec to rural Portal.

“He moved in with us,” said Coni Hargrave, adding that their friends recommended Derrick for his character and work ethic. “He became part of the family.”

View from McCoy’s yard of the houses where the four illegal aliens were spotted. [Photo by Huey Freeman]
McCoy, a 2015 graduate of Aztec High School with two years of dual credit at San Juan College, had essentially been on his own since his father died when he was 12 years old. He said his mother rejected him at birth and never treated him as her own. He was close with his father, a Vietnam War veteran who worked as an automobile mechanic and mobile tool dealer. McCoy learned to work hard by working alongside his father. From the age of 16 until June 2017, McCoy worked on and off as a welder’s assistant in oil fields. The final paycheck he earned for work performed in one week in June showed gross pay of $804 for 58 hours of labor.

McCoy insists that there is no way he would have jeopardized his future by trying to gain $200 from illegal aliens, who he firmly believed were dead broke when he encountered them.

‘I wanted to make sure none of Billy’s belongings were stolen while he was away.’

Coni Hargrave said she trusts Derrick and does not believe he was trying to help illegals to elude the Border Patrol. On the morning of Nov. 11, Derrick received a text message about illegals at Billy Grossman’s property.

“He just shoved his boots on and ran out of the house,” she said. “His main intention was to get them away from Billy’s so they wouldn’t take anything from him. He was responsible for Billy’s property while Billy and Anna were out of town.”

She was sitting in her living room, as her husband watched the scene unfold about 100 yards away and told her what he was seeing. He had spotted the men in camo gear about the same time that McCoy received the text. Now he saw one of the men waving his arms at McCoy and advancing toward him. Then he saw McCoy draw his gun.

A short time later, the Border Patrol called the Hargraves to tell them to pick up the 1997 Mercury Mountaineer Derrick had been driving, which was registered in their names. When they arrived on the scene, about one half mile from their house, they were “dumbfounded” to see Derrick in handcuffs. Border Patrol agents would not answer questions about Derrick, but assured them that they would bring him back.

“We expected him back in a couple of hours,” Coni Hargrave recalled.

On Sunday, someone on the phone at the BP station in Douglas told her they were holding him until prosecutors decided Monday whether to charge him with a crime. The impression she received was “that the U.S. Attorney would decline to prosecute.”

She said she does not believe the Border Patrol’s narrative, including that McCoy told the illegals “to get down” when he saw the BP vehicles.

“His car was completely loaded with tools. There wasn’t an awful lot of room and you can see right in the windows. Four people could not have gotten down in the car where they could not have been seen.”

After 17 years working in law enforcement, for a city police department and sheriff’s office in New Mexico, Coni Hargrave said she usually takes the side of law enforcement.

“This whole thing is very disappointing to me,” she said. “I really feel like this is all agenda-based for a feather in their cap, so they can say, ‘We got ourselves another smuggler.’ Why would you believe illegals? Why would they tell the truth? They’ve already broken the law. Why would you believe anything they have to say?”

She said that in law enforcement, there are times that “you kind of bend the law” to make a case.

“But not on a case where someone is clearly not guilty,” Coni Hargrave said. “It’s looking at ruining a 20-year-old’s life. It’s just stupid. I think they’re overzealous. I feel targeted. I don’t have any trust in the Border Patrol. They’re supposed to take care of us. They’re taking care of them, the illegals.”

She said she believes Derrick’s main intention was to remove the threat to his neighbors. He would normally complete a task he set out to accomplish.

“I’m the mother of five children,” she said. “I know when a 20-year-old is lying to me.”

Her husband, John Hargrave, said that Derrick is an extremely hard worker.

“He’s real unusual for a 20-year-old boy. He’s a real homebody. He’s honest as the day is long. He’s usually in bed by about 9 o’clock. And he’ll help anybody any way he can.”

On the morning that McCoy drove off to protect his neighbors, John Hargrave stood in the doorway of his house and saw the action unfold between him and the four border crossers.

“I saw everything,” he said. “I could pick up Derrick’s words. I saw when he told the man to stop and he kept approaching him, and Derrick pulled the pistol.”

Hargrave said that when the pistol was pulled in response to the man advancing toward McCoy, “they went down” and “hit the ground.”

Hargrave said that McCoy knew the Border Patrol had been called and was probably on their way.

“So Derrick loaded them up and was taking them to meet up with the Border Patrol,” Hargrave said.

He was surprised to hear that McCoy had been arrested and charged with transporting illegal aliens for money.

“They’re railroading him, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a railroad job,” Hargrave said. “He was just trying to help them. I think it’s a witch hunt. It’s a feather in their cap. They can say they caught a smuggler. It looks good on paper, in other words.”

About Huey Freeman 7 Articles
Huey Freeman was a reporter at the Herald Review in Decatur Illinois. as a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois. He is married to Kate Freeman, with four grown children. His books include: Who Shot Nick Ivie? Legendary Locals of Decatur