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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Conflicted Thoughts About the Border Agents Resolved

I had been grappling with the right and wrong of the situation concerning the two imprisoned border agents for some time until I viewed a segment on the O’Reilly Factor Thursday where he interviewed Johnny Sutton, the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case and put these men in jail for doing their job. He came across looking like a straight-shooter who was somewhat conflicted about a case he knew was weak, but was trying to put the best face on the prosecution that he could. His explanations convinced me that something was very wrong here, and to rethink this whole, awful state of affairs.

The basic problem for me all along is that a jury listened to the evidence and convicted these men of serious felonies for which they have received long sentences, and could subject them to ‘prison justice’. I have since learned that at least three members of the jury have stated that they were misled by jury instructions and intimidated into going along with a guilty verdict. Of course, also, the O.J. jury always and forever will cloud jury verdicts in my mind. At the same time, we have the examples of Nifong of the Duke case, Earle of the DeLay case, Fitzgerald of the Scooter Libby case and a whole series of mishandled child abuse cases which raise serious questions about what happens to some people when they acquire the power we give to district attorneys.

Then this morning I read the following article by Debra Saunders, a columnist who usually gets it right, and all the pieces fell into place. President Bush, please pardon these men before something terrible happens to them in prison!

January 18, 2007
Free the Border Patrol Two
By Debra Saunders, Real Clear Politics

Prison doors clanged shut last night, leaving two Border Patrol agents locked up among the very types of felons they once helped put away. The agents' families have been wiped out financially, their kids will grow up without a father watching over them, their freedom has been stripped from them. What was the terrible crime that put agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean behind bars for sentences of 11 years and 12 years, respectively?

They fired at a drug smuggler, who had been driving a van with 743 pounds of marijuana, as he ran toward the border to avoid arrest. They say they did not know they wounded him in the buttocks, so they picked up their shells and filed a false report that didn't mention the shooting.

For that, Johnny Sutton, the U.S. attorney for Western Texas, prosecuted the agents.

After a two-and-a-half-week trial, a jury found them guilty of assault with a dangerous weapon, discharge of a firearm during a violent crime, obstructing justice, lying about the incident and willfully violating the Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal seizure of Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, the Mexican drug smuggler, who, incidentally, is suing the Border Patrol for $5 million because his civil rights were violated.

Sutton isn't happy about granting the smuggler immunity, but as he told me over the phone, he didn't have enough evidence to prosecute Aldrete-Davila.

Sutton hates being called "an overzealous prosecutor." As he said in a statement, "In America, law enforcement officers do not get to shoot unarmed suspects who are running away and file official reports that are false." And, "It is shocking that there are people who believe it is OK for agents to shoot at an unarmed suspect who is running away."

As for the long sentences, they are the doing of Congress, which tacked 10 years onto federal sentences for crimes committed with guns -- and there is no exemption for law enforcement officers.

Let me say this: Border Patrol agents do not have a right to -- and should not -- shoot at unarmed suspects. When and if they do shoot unarmed suspects, they should be disciplined -- and that includes firing them.

In this case, however, Ramos and Compean say they thought the suspect was armed. Sutton says that's not true. Ditto the drug smuggler -- but he has 5 million reasons to lie.

Two of Aldrete-Davila's family members, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin that the smuggler had been dealing drugs since age 14 and, according to one, he "wouldn't move drugs unless he had a gun on him."

Sutton responded, "There's this impression that all these dopers carry guns," but mules -- smugglers such as Aldrete-Davila -- "almost never carry guns," because federal law "tacks on five years to their sentence."

Even if everything Sutton says is true, Ramos and Compean most certainly should not spend 11 and 12 years behind bars. I don't think they should spend a single night in prison -- not for what was a mistake (if the smuggler was not armed) made in the heat of the moment, even if it was followed with a cover-up.

Americans should not put men in frustrating and dangerous law-enforcement positions, then lock them up and throw away the key if those men do one wrong thing, especially of the sort that angry, scared men sometimes do. It is not as if Ramos and Compean were crooked agents running criminal enterprises and betraying their fellow agents. If they were, they'd probably be facing a shorter sentence.

As T.J. Bonner of the agents' union, told me: "It's going to be terrible. These are good cops going to prison. It's not as if they're bad cops who are going to be accepted into the community. The very people they put away are going to be in the next cell to these guys."

Asked if President Bush would pardon the agents last Friday, White House spokesman Tony Snow noted that a jury had convicted them after a long trial. "We also believe that the people who are working to secure that border themselves obey the law."
Bonner looks at Bush's decision not to pardon the two men as a signal that Dubya doesn't particularly care about securing America's borders.

It is not as if Bush has too many friends and too much public support. I've heard from many Americans who are outraged at these excessive sentences and don't understand why Bush has not used his pardon power to commute the sentences of agents who were just doing their jobs.

If anything happens to these men while they are behind bars, then what will America think of George W. Bush?

**********************************
FLASH: THIS JUST IN:

BUSH CONSIDERING PARDON FOR BORDER AGENTS CONVICTED OF SHOOTING MEXICAN DRUG RUNNER
Friday, January 19, 2007

WASHINGTON — President Bush promised to review a case for a possible pardon of two former U.S. Border Patrol agents serving time in prison for shooting a Mexican drug runner.

Bush said in an interview with KFOX-TV in El Paso, Texas, Thursday that he would "take a sober look at the case" as it works its way through the appeals system.

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3 Comments:

At 5:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you might find the following interesting
http://patterico.com/2007/01/18/5702/texas-border-patrol-shooting-case-comparing-debra-saunderss-columns-to-the-us-attorneys-fact-sheet/

 
At 7:23 AM, Blogger RussWilcox said...

Obviously you seem to believe that the Border Control Agents should spend a major part of their lives, what may be left of them, in prison largely based on the testimony of Agent Oscar Juarez. Perhaps the following would be of interest:
"Oscar Juarez was one of the agents given immunity from prosecution because he admitted lying three times on three prior statements during questioning. Agent Ramos was eating lunch at the Border Patrol Station, one mile west of Fabens, when he heard the alert by Compean. He ran out, jumped into his patrol vehicle and drove into town to try to intercept the smuggler. By the time he got there, the van had already been spotted by agent Juarez who was in pursuit. The smuggler had turned around and was headed back to the river. Agent Ramos was now waiting on the farm road that leads back to Mexico.

There is hardly any traffic on this farm road. He joined the pursuit when the smuggler went by and actually got between the smuggler and agent Juarez’s unit. The smuggler had every opportunity to surrender but had no intentions of doing so. He was facing many years in prison. Agent Compean had stayed back by the river knowing that the smuggler would surely be coming back. He was waiting on the south edge of a canal where the road comes to a dead end. The smuggler was chased for over three miles of paved road and one mile of dirt road before he jumped out of the moving van and tried to ditch it into the canal. Only the front tires of the van made it into the edge of the canal. The time was a little after one in the afternoon. Visibility was good except for the last mile, The dust created by the vehicles made visibility very poor and Juarez would testify that he had to keep about a ten car distance between his unit and that of Ramos.

The smuggler went into the canal which is approximately 15 feet deep and thirty feet wide. The canal was about three feet deep in water and mud. Agent Compean was waiting on the opposite side or south side of the canal. He was holding his shotgun, pointed up in the air and yelling at the smuggler to stop. By now the agents knew, instinctively, that they were in a very dangerous situation. Ramos had parked about thirty feet behind the smugglers van and was now chasing the smuggler on foot. The smuggler ran straight at Compean who tried to grab him by the shoulder, but lost his footing and fell to the ground. By this time, agent Ramos had gone down into the canal to try to cross and assist Compean. The canal’s walls are very steep and hard to climb. The smuggler ran around Compean and started running up the slope and onto the elevated levee road where Compean had parked his border patrol unit. The prosecution would claim that the smuggler was trying to surrender. Compean got up instantly and took off after the smuggler. He caught up with him and managed to bring him down on the opposite side of the elevated levee road where Compean again tried to apprehend the smuggler.

The smuggler managed to get loose and again started running towards Mexico, after throwing and kicking dirt all over Compean. It is then that the smuggler pulls out a shiny object and points it at Compean in a shooting manner. Compean had received cuts to his face and on one hand. Compean was still lying on the ground when he finally pulled out his Baretta and fired at the smuggler in self defense. The smuggler said in his first statement that Compean fired five or six shots. The lying prosecutors would up that number to sixteen shots. None of Compean’s shots hit the smuggler. Agent Ramos was climbing out of the canal when he heard the shots. He could not see and could not tell who was firing shots. All he knew was that he had to go to the aid of his fellow agent and ran to the levee to assist. Compean was still on the ground when Ramos got to him. Ramos could not tell if Compean had been shot. The smuggler was running towards the river and Ramos took off after him.

This Is when the smuggler turned and pointed at Ramos with the same shiny object which Ramos took for a gun. Ramos testified that he took one shot and that the smuggler turned and kept running. The smuggler then disappeared into the thick, tall brush along the river. Ramos said that he stopped and and kept watching for the smuggler to come out of the brush. Ramos started walking back to check on Compean who was now walking towards Ramos. Ramos testified that he patted down Compean and asked him if he was OK.

At this point two other agents arrived on the levee road and got off their border patrol unit to assist. All four agents saw the smuggler walk out of the brush, cross the dry river bed and get into a getaway vehicle with two other suspects. They sped off into Mexico. The agents then walked back to the edge of the canal where Supevisor Jonathan Richards and three other agents were searching the van. Three agents, including Compean testified that they told Richards that Compean had been assaulted. Assault on a federal agent carries a mandatory five year prison sentence. Richards failed to call the F.B.I. to come and investigate.

During my investigation, I clocked agent Ramos twice to see how long it took him to get from his vehicle to Compean on the opposite side of the levee. The water level in the canal was the same as the day of this incident. The first run took him forty five seconds and the second one took thirty nine seconds. The agents had to make split second decisions that day. They knew that they were dealing with a dangerous drug smuggler and not with the everyday illegal immigrant. At sentencing in October, Debra Kanof, the prosecutor told the judge that all Mr. Davila wanted to do was go back home to Mexico. “Why didn’t they let him go?” she asked. For a year and a half before sentencing, the same prosecutor kept saying that all the smuggler wanted to do was surrender. They told the judge that the agents should have let him go because they did no know what was in the van and that it is not their duty to go after drug smugglers.

This is one of the biggest fabricated lies of the trial that the prosecutors told the jury for two days. The jury evidently believed them. (Agent Ramos had taken part in approximately 100 busts and had never hurt anyone before, despite having been assaulted, injured and fired upon many times.) Agent Compean had also been involved in several dozen drug busts. Juarez had never been involved in any busts. Ramos was a ten year agent, Compean was a five year agent and Juarez had been an agent for a year and a half. Ramos was nominated for agent of the year in 2005 but the U. S. Border Patrol removed his name from nomination after he was indicted."
There is much more exculpatory information.

 
At 5:45 PM, Blogger coboble said...

Here is what I found in one source I read:
"the defendants were prosecuted because they had fired their weapons at a man who had attempted to surrender by holding his open hands in the air, at which time Agent Compean attempted to hit the man with the butt of Compean's shotgun, causing the man to run in fear of what the agents would do to him next."

Initially I was on the side of Pardoning these men.
But that was because my source was all based on one side of the story.

Now I am thinking, there was a point in time, where the agents could have made their arrest, but instead choose to invoke violence upon the suspect.

It would concern me, if the attitude that it is ok to provoke a prisoner to run, and then shoot him for doing so, prevails.

 

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