Border Patrol agent working without pay, deputy rescue suicidal man

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Border Patrol Agent Brian Maitland is working without pay because of the government shutdown, but he said saving the life of a man considering suicide on a bridge in Newport, Michigan, this month was his duty. "Anybody in law enforcement or fire or EMS would have done the same thing," he said.

The man was sitting on a bridge near Monroe with a rope, one end tied around his neck and the other to a bridge beam, and he appeared to be preparing to jump. 

Someone made a call to officials about a suicidal male, sending police, fire, EMS and a border patrol agent to the CN Railroad Bridge near Swan Creek Road in Newport, a small town north of Monroe.

The crew acted quickly earlier this month. As Monroe County Deputy Brian Sroka talked with the man, a half-empty bottle of bourbon next to him, Border Patrol Agent Brian Maitland moved in behind him. He grabbed the man's collar and dragged him off the edge off the bridge. Officials took the rope off the man's neck and helped him stand up. They found a suicide note in his back pocket and helped him off the bridge.

Maitland and Sroka are being hailed as heroes for saving the 64-year-old man, Maitland also because he is among the 800,000 employees who are furloughed or working without pay in the longest partial government shutdown in history. 

The shutdown was sparked by President Donald Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall between the United States and Mexico, and Congress' unwillingness to fund it.

Maitland, 49, said his saving the suicidal man was "no big deal."

"Anybody in law enforcement or fire or EMS would have done the same thing," said Maitland, who lives Downriver and works for the Gibraltar Border Patrol Station. "A human life is a human life."

Maitland's colleague, Jason Anderson, said it shows the allegiance of U.S. government workers, even amid the shutdown. 

"In these times, when we are not receiving a paycheck, we have dedicated group of men and women performing their jobs and working for the American people," said Anderson, president of the American Federation of Government Employees/National Border Patrol Council, Local 2499. 

"He risked himself in doing that, but he did the right thing."

Numerous attempts to reach Sroka, his relatives and colleagues were unsuccessful Wednesday.

The shutdown, which began Dec. 22, has had a ripple effect. Some workers report they have had to rely on food banks and are facing hardships without a paycheck. Food inspections have stopped, funds for federal courts are close to running out and national parks are struggling to stay open.

Meanwhile, the Sault Tribe of the Chippewa Indians is tapping its own resources to keep health clinics open and food pantries stocked as worry grows of how the shutdown might affect food assistance for children, seniors and the disabled, along with national security and tax returns.

The government's partial closure has been a drag on Trump's approval ratings, at 34 percent, according to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The Senate is expected to vote on ending the shutdown Thursday as many Americans grow concerned about the government workers.

Meanwhile, the men are getting notice for their action. “Border Patrol Agent Brian Maitland and Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Sroka are true heroes whose actions helped save a man’s life," said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

Maitland, the father of three daughters and eight grandchildren, has worked as a border patrol agent for 10 years and said he is not experiencing difficulties as he goes without pay.

"We're doing OK," he said, declining to take a position on the shutdown or the political issues that led to it.

He said, in saving the man from jumping off the bridge, he was only doing his job to "help protect the community we live and work."

"(It's) just human nature to try and help someone in need."