Be a Border Patrol agent, do your job, go to prison. That's how the job must look to agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean.
In February 2005, the agents tried to stop a van driven by drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila near the Mexico border. After a scuffle with Compean, Aldrete-Davila fled on foot. Ramos says he believes that he saw a gun -- which the smuggler denies. Both agents fired at Aldrete-Davila, who fell, then continued his escape across the border. After he got away, Ramos and Compean filed a report on the 743 pounds of marijuana they found in the van, but not on the gunfire. As it turns out, Ramos had shot Aldrete-Davila in the butt. A Homeland Security agent heard about the episode, went to Mexico and offered Aldrete-Davila immunity, if he testified against Ramos and Compean.
U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, a Bush appointee, prosecuted the agents. In March, 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 Aldrete-Davila's Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal seizure.
Because there was gunfire, the mandatory-minimum prison sentence the agents will serve is 10 years. The U.S. Probation Office in El Paso, Texas, has recommended 20 years -- 20 years away from their wives and their children, and among the type of people they've put behind bars.
As for Aldrete-Davila, he faces no charges for the 743 pounds of pot. That leaves him free to carry out his plan to sue the Border Patrol -- that is, U.S. taxpayers -- for $5 million because his civil rights were violated. What a country.
Ramos, who was nominated Border Patrol Agent of the year in 2005, told the San Bernardino County Sun, "There's murderers and child rapists that are looking at less time than me."
At the heart of the prosecution is a vehicle-pursuit policy that makes absolutely no sense. As Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Kanof explained to the Sun, "It is a violation of Border Patrol regulations to go after someone who is fleeing." It's like a no-arrest policy.
No surprise, Border Patrol agents routinely ignore the regs. As Ramos responded to Kanof: "How are we supposed to follow the Border Patrol strategy of apprehending terrorists or drug smugglers if we are not supposed to pursue fleeing people? Everybody who's breaking the law flees from us. What are we supposed to do? Do they want us to catch them or not?"
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