A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent based in Blaine has pleaded guilty to felony harassment charges stemming from an altercation with a man from British Columbia.
Joel Helle, 56, pleaded guilty to one county of felony harassment – threats to kill – stemming from an argument he had with a man while driving on I-5 near Mount Vernon. Skagit County deputy prosecuting attorney Paul Nielsen said he dropped second-degree assault and second-degree criminal impersonation of law enforcement officer charges in exchange for the guilty plea.
Helle was sentenced to one month of partial confinement in Skagit County Superior Court on August 5. Partial confinement can include serving on a work crew or house arrest with electronic monitoring, Nielsen explained.
Helle will most likely split his sentence between serving on a work crew and 120 hours of community service, Nielsen said. Helle was also ordered to complete anger management training and undergo anger management evaluation.
Helle, who has worked for CBP for nine years and has a total of 20 years in law enforcement, was put on unpaid suspension as soon as CBP officials received word of his arrest in April, CBP spokesman Mike Milne said. The facts of Helle’s guilty plea will be taken into consideration as the CBP’s internal investigation into Helle’s actions continues. Milne could not say how long the internal investigation might take.
According to court documents, Helle was driving northbound on I-5 on April 23 when an SUV with B.C. plates started to drift from the right lane into Helle’s lane. As Helle tells it, the driver of the SUV did not change his course despite Helle honking his horn repeatedly.
Helle eventually had to drive onto the left shoulder of the interstate to avoid an accident. Once he was able to get back into to traffic, Helle passed the SUV and moved into the right shoulder of the roadway as the SUV behind him was doing the same.
Once on the shoulder, Helle got out his car and walked toward the SUV. Helle, who was in plain clothes and driving his personal car, showed his CBP badge to the SUV driver and banged on the driver’s side window in an attempt to talk to the driver.
The SUV driver eventually rolled down his window to talk to Helle, who asked why he had tried to drive him off the road and if he had done it because Helle was a CBP agent. The SUV driver did not answer Helle’s questions and briefly moved his left hand to the center console, and Helle grabbed him by the neck.
Helle attempted to get the passenger in the SUV to call 911, but finding no cooperation from the passenger released his hold on the driver, walked back to his car and drove off.
“You can drive any way you want to in Canada. But if you drive that way down here somebody might put a bullet up your ass,” Helle told the driver as he left, according to court documents.
Helle will be required to provide an update on his community service and anger management progress by November 4, Nielsen said. If Helle has not completed enough hours in either requirement, Nielsen said he would ask the judge to order Helle to serve the rest of his sentence in custody.