Border Patrol Agents’ Conviction Riles Union Chief

Border Patrol agents' conviction riles union chief
By Jerry Seper
August 16, 2006

Two U.S. Border Patrol agents facing 20 years in prison for shooting in the buttocks a drug-smuggling suspect should get a new trial because they are “victims of prosecutorial misconduct,” including an unjust grant of immunity, says the head of the National Border Patrol Council.

NBPC President T.J. Bonner said exonerating evidence was withheld during the March trial of Senior Agents Ignacio “Nacho” Ramos and Jose A. Compean, whose sentencing is set for Tuesday, adding that the agents followed long-established Border Patrol policies in the incident.

He also said the suspect fled into Mexico after the shooting but later was given immunity on drug-smuggling charges to testify against the agents.

“This thing stinks to high heaven,” Mr. Bonner said. “I am outraged and at a loss to explain why there were so many irregularities in this case. The only thing that is clear is that the prosecutors pointed their guns at the wrong guys, the good guys, and they let the bad guy walk. Now they want to send these agents to prison for doing their job.

“That offends me, and I believe most Americans would agree,” he said.

On Friday, two of the 12 jurors who convicted the agents told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario, Calif., that they were pressured by prosecutors to return guilty verdicts and that other jurors sought a quick verdict because spring break was a week away and they wanted to avoid a long deliberation.

Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila was wounded as he ran from the agents along the Rio Grande near El Paso, Texas. The agents said he pointed what appeared to be a gun at them as they tried to apprehend him. More than 800 pounds of marijuana, worth $1 million, was found in the van he abandoned at the river's edge.

Aldrete-Davila is suing the federal government for $5 million, saying his civil rights were violated.

A federal jury in El Paso convicted Ramos, 37, and Compean, 28, in March of causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and a civil rights violation. The shooting occurred Feb. 17.

Spotted in his van near the Rio Grande, records show Ramos gave chase while Compean circled around to head off the suspect. When Aldrete-Davila jumped out of the van and ran south to the river, he was confronted by Compean, who was thrown to the ground as the two men fought. Ramos said he saw Compean on the ground and chased Aldrete-Davila to the river, where the suspect suddenly turned toward him, pointing what looked like a gun.

“I shot, but I didn't think he was hit because he kept running into the brush and then disappeared into it,” Ramos said. “Later, we all watched as he jumped into a van waiting for him. He seemed fine. It didn't look like he had been hit at all.”

Mr. Bonner said that two weeks later, Aldrete-Davila called a Border Patrol agent in Arizona to say he was “forming a hunting party” to track down and shoot some agents for revenge. Mr. Bonner said the agent, who lived in Mexico and knew Aldrete-Davila before immigrating to the United States and becoming a citizen, advised against the plan and said he would report the incident to the Department of Homeland Security.

An investigator from the Office of Inspector General tracked down Aldrete-Davila in Mexico, where he was offered immunity in exchange for testimony. Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Kanof, who prosecuted the case, was not available yesterday for comment. During the trial, she argued it was a violation of Border Patrol policy for agents to pursue fleeing suspects.

Mr. Bonner, a 28-year Border Patrol veteran, also said the NBPC, which represents all 10,000 of the agency's nonsupervisory agents, opposed efforts under way in California by Friends of the Border Patrol and to petition President Bush for a pardon, saying that would suggest the agents did something wrong. He said the NBPC “is confident the agents will be exonerated at a fair trial.”

Border Patrol officials have declined to comment on the case, citing pending litigation.