Video obtained by Local 2 Investigates shows two teenagers smuggling drugs and people into Texas, investigators say.
The video was shot by a 16-year-old boy. Investigators in Brooks County said they discovered the video on the teen's iPhone after he and 14 other illegal immigrants were arrested following a high speed chase.
The men in the video are smiling and heard listening to upbeat music as they navigate several back roads and highways in south Texas.
"It's contemptible," said Jackson County Sheriff AJ Louderback after viewing the video. "It's just the attitude."
One clip recorded by the teenager shows a group of people trudging through dense underbrush after crossing the border into Texas. Another clip shows the same teenager mugging for camera as at least seven people are crammed into the back of a pick-up truck.
The people in the back are seen with their eyes closed and heads hanging down.
Investigator Daniel Davila said he suspects the people were drugged to make them more docile for the trip.
An eighth person, a woman, is seen sitting between the teen and the driver of the pick-up. The pair smile and point at the woman, whose eyes are closed and as her heads lolls from side to side before she eventually slips to the floorboard without waking.
Another video clip found on the teen's phone shows a large load of what appears to be bundles of drugs packed into the back of a different SUV that was equipped with a navigation system, investigators said. A shotgun is seen resting next to the teen's legs in the front seat.
On several of the clips, the men are seen using mainly back roads in rural communities to move the people and drugs. However, one clip showed the vehicle traveling along I-45 as it passed over Caney Creek in Montgomery County.
The video shows another pick-up truck traveling in front of the group. Investigators said they suspect the man driving the truck was either a scout or a decoy meant to run interference in case the group came across police officers.
"That could be a road in Jackson County," said Louderback, referring to the video. "We all have the back roads, we all have the side roads."
Louderback said this video highlights a problem rural counties south of Houston have been dealing with for years. Smugglers have long used rural roads to avoid law enforcement scrutiny on major highways, he said.
According to Louderback, smugglers also traverse rural counties because of the lack of law enforcement manpower.
"Not a matter of if, it's a matter of when for us," said Louderback.
According to Davila, the 16-year-old in the video was eventually deported to Mexico. Davila said the teenager did not provide much information to investigators regarding the men he recorded.
Davila said the other men in the video were never found, neither were any of the people seen crammed into the truck. However, the video evidence was handed over to federal agents who are pursuing several leads based on the footage, Davila said.
Police: Smuggler uses stolen law enforcement license plate
While working on the story, Local 2 Investigates uncovered a separate incident of a suspected smuggler using a law enforcement license plate stolen from the Houston area.
Officers in Falfurrias, also in Brooks County, said they spotted an all black SUV that was made to look like some type of undercover police task force vehicle.
Assistant Police Chief Albert Gonzalez said the driver even turned on red and blue flashing lights when he noticed officers following the vehicle.
Gonzalez said his officers became suspicious of the SUV when they noticed its lettering and rims that had been spray painted black. Gonzalez said his officers attempted to pull the driver over, but he sped off.
After a brief chase, the driver and several other occupants "bailed out" and ran into the woods, Gonzalez said. No one was arrested.
Officers ran a check of the license plate and discovered it belonged to a Precinct 6 deputy constable's patrol car, Gonzalez said.
Precinct 6 officials said they noticed the plate was missing at the end of January but did not realize it had been found in Falfurrias until they received a call from Local 2. Houston police said they are now investigating the circumstances around the theft of the license plate.