U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton
Responding to fierce criticism of the imprisonment of two Texas Border Patrol agents, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton expressed frustration his office could not prosecute the drug smuggler at the center of the case, calling him a “scum.”
“We have a leading record prosecuting drug dealers, not letting them go,” Sutton told WND in a telephone interview.
As WND reported, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean began prison sentences of 11 and 12 years respectively Wednesday for their actions in the shooting and wounding of Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila after he assaulted Compean, dumped more than 700 pounds of marijuana, then fled into Mexico.
Sutton acknowledged the case could become for the Bush administration another Harriet Miers or Dubai Ports-type controversy.
“Yes, I understand the public relations problem the case has caused,” Sutton said. “We are trying to get the public to see our side of the story.”
Public reaction forced reversals after President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court in October 2005 and after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in February 2006 approved Dubai Ports World to operate certain U.S. ports.
Ramos and Campean are going to prison just as news breaks that the Social Security Administration has signed an agreement with Mexico to “totalize” Social Security benefits even for illegal Mexican immigrants who have worked as little as six quarters in the U.S. The agreement was disclosed only after a Freedom of Information Act demand for its release.
Opponents of the agents’ imprisonment – who argue they should, at most, have received a suspension for not following procedure after firing a weapon – believe the case could create a chilling effect for Border Patrol agents who might decide it’s easier to look the other way than to use deadly force to apprehend Mexican drug smugglers.
But Sutton argues he had no choice.
“You have to understand that we could not turn our backs on this,” he told WND. “Two Border Patrol officers shot 15 times at an unarmed man who was running away and posed no real threat.”
The Bush administration continues to argue on background that Ramos and Compean lied to Border Patrol officials and covered up evidence, asserting the drug smuggler was not armed and had attempted to surrender peacefully.
But critics contend the White House essentially is taking the word of a drug smuggler over two Border Patrol agents, as the three were the only people who saw what happened. Ramos and Compean testified Aldrete-Davila did not have his hands up, he was running away, and he pointed an object at them they believed to be a gun.
Much of the outrage against Sutton stems from sending the two agents to federal prison while granting immunity to the drug dealer in exchange for his testimony as the star witness. The drug dealer also was given medical care by the U.S. and now is filing a $5 million lawsuit against the Border Patrol for alleged violation of his civil rights.
Opponents argue Sutton should have extradited Aldrete-Davila for criminal prosecution, because it’s undisputed he was smuggling marijuana across the border. The first crime committed was the drug smuggling, critics point out, even if Ramos and Compean were culpable for their actions.
Sutton told WND “there was no way we could prosecute” Aldrete-Davila.
“Ramos and Compean could not identify him,” he said. “We found no fingerprints on the van, and he managed to escape, even though he had been shot in the behind by the agents.”
Nevertheless, Sutton’s office was able to track down Aldrete-Davila in Mexico and convince him to return to the U.S. to testify against Ramos and Compean. The bullet was removed from the smuggler’s buttocks by a military physician in the U.S. so it could be introduced as evidence in the agents’ trial.
Critics ask how government investigators were able to track down the drug smuggler in Mexico when Ramos and Compean could not identify him in the first place and there were no fingerprints on the van.
The critics say that among the ironies in the case is that Ramos and Compean were prosecuted in part under a federal law that makes it a crime to discharge a firearm during a crime of violence – a law that was intended to prosecute violent criminals, not Border Patrol officers.
They ask, if Ramos and Compean were not committing a crime in pursuing a drug smuggling suspect, how could this law apply?
The agents still insist Aldrete-Davila appeared to point something at them while the smuggler claimed he was only raising his hands to surrender.
WND is in discussions with Sutton’s office to arrange a second interview to answer questions such as why the government thought Aldrete-Davila’s story was more credible than the report of the two agents.