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US Homeland Security Department employee goes on leave due to complaints about his Halloween costume

An employee of U.S. Homeland Security Department has been sent on leave for wearing a Hallowe'en costume that drew complaints from other workers.

An inquiry is under way to determine proper sanctions in the incident, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday. He did not to criticize Julie Myers, assistant secretary of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, who was one of the judges at the party and apologized on Friday.

The unidentified employee's costume of dreadlocks, dark makeup and prison stripes was deemed by Myers and two other managers as the "most original" at the party. After receiving complaints from some employees, Myers e-mailed an apology to her staff, saying a few costumes at the party were inappropriate and offensive.

Myers posed for photos with the employee but they were discarded, ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said.

"People do dumb things," Chertoff said. "I get very perturbed when there's anything that is done that suggests with respect to enforcement of the law we are anything but evenhanded.

"The idea you can come and impersonate someone of another ethnic group, that is completely unacceptable," Chertoff said.

At the White House, President George W. Bush's spokeswoman Dana Perino said: "Obviously we do not tolerate inappropriate behavior at the Department of Homeland Security." Once the facts are determined, "we are sure that the department will take all necessary and appropriate actions," she said.

Chertoff said Myers was right to apologize for the costume.

"I'm quite sure it bothers her. She was kind of caught by surprise by this and in the middle of the party and I know she's mortified, but I think she's doing what she needs to do at the moment," Chertoff said.

In addition, Myers contacted members of Congress and an association of black DHS workers about the costume, Chertoff said.

Bush installed Myers in her post while the Senate was in recess after it became clear she might not win Senate confirmation.

Some Democrats have questioned her qualifications for the job and whether she received it because she is the niece of Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during most of Bush's tenure. She also is married to John Wood, former chief of staff to Chertoff.

The Senate allowed her to keep her post in September, saying she had eased concerns about her qualifications.

Myers' agency is responsible for apprehending and jailing violators of immigration and customs laws, including conducting raids at work sites to round up undocumented workers.

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