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."