A Texas town has launched a “Free Gilmer” campaign on behalf of Deputy Sheriff Gilmer Hernandez, who has been convicted of firing a weapon at fleeing illegals, and is scheduled for sentencing in March.

Townspeople rally for Gilmer Hernandez

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, brought the issue to the attention of Congress recently, where he outlined the circumstances under which Hernandez fired several shots, including one that left one illegal alien with a minor injury.

“Mr. Speaker, in the small border town of Rocksprings, Texas, where drug smugglers and human smugglers sneak across the Rio Grande into America, lone Deputy Sheriff Gilmer Hernandez was on patrol. In the stillness of the vast night, a speeding Suburban runs a red light. Deputy Hernandez, 25, stops the vehicle, but suddenly, without warning, the vehicle takes off.

“Deputy Hernandez says the vehicle tried to run him down. The lawman fires several shots, one of which shoots out the rear tire, just like in the movies. The vehicle stops, and eight or nine illegals jump out and take off running into the sagebrush,” he said.

The U.S. government then rounds up the illegals and, “Guess what, prosecutes Deputy Hernandez, claiming he recklessly discharged his firearm and uses the illegals as witnesses against the lawman during a trial,” he said.

“Mr. Speaker, another example of how the Federal Government is more concerned about people illegally invading American than it is about the men who protect America,” he said.

The case is starkly like the case involving two former U.S. Border Patrol Agents, Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos, who were convicted of shooting at a fleeing drug smuggler who escaped back into Mexico. They currently are serving prison terms of 11 and 12 years.

And yet another case that is similar involves David Sipe, another former Border Patrol agent whose 2001 guilty verdict in a civil rights case now has been overturned. He was in physical combat and fearing for his life when he subdued the smuggler by hitting him with his flashlight, according to reports of the case.

The subsequent stitches in the smuggler’s head resulted in criminal charges against the law enforcement officer, and an $80,000 government settlement for the criminal.

In Hernandez’ situation, according to news reports, a group of local Baptists is paying Hernandez’ mortgage and others are covering his truck payments and utilities, and “Free Gilmer” signs have sprouted all over.

“I think the overwhelming majority of the community just can’t believe it. Of all people! If he were some raunchy deputy, but he’s not. He’s very well respected,” said Carolyn Anderson, editor of the local Texas Mohair Weekly. “It’s both compassion and outrage. They want him released and pardoned.”

His conviction came Dec. 1 after a week-long trial in federal court in Del Rio. He was convicted of violating the civil rights of a Mexican woman who suffered a minor gunshot wound while being smuggled to Austin.

Hernandez has been held without bond in the Val Verde Correction Facility in Del Rio since, and is scheduled for sentencing in March, when he could get up to 10 years in a federal prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Baumann said the law is that “you cannot use deadly force to stop a car unless it poses an imminent threat to the officer or another person.”

But Hernandez’s lawyer, Jimmy Parks Jr., described the shooting as justified.

“Everything Gilmer did was appropriate and what he had been instructed to do, and … he had come into a situation in which he truly was in fear for his life,” Parks said.

“These people were in the country illegally. They were fleeing the law. What is law enforcement supposed to do?” asked Albert Green, a local Baptist pastor.

The confrontation was April 14, 2005, and Hernandez reported he began shooting after the driver tried to run him over.

The guilty verdict came on a grand jury indictment that he shot Maricela Rodriguez-Garcia with a dangerous weapon causing bodily injury. She was treated and released from a hospital that night.

In the Sipe case, according to reports, he testified he was being struck in the side and the assailant “was very close to my weapon … and I had to do what I could to control the situation as fast as I could.”

But it took a second jury to reach that result. After the first jury, which returned a guilty verdict, he could only sit and suffer. “My house foreclosed on after having to file bankruptcy, my children having to live through this… of course my wife divorcing me.”

The new result came after it was discovered that prosecutors had withheld information from the defense about prior convictions for some of the witnesses.

In the Ramos and Compean case, WND has reported that Homeland Security documents apparently contradict the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case.

The internal Department of Homeland Security memoranda show that within one month of the shooting incident, government investigators had identified the smuggler as Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila.

But this seems to contradict U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton’s claim that Aldrete-Davila came forward through a Mexican lawyer who offered to identify his client in exchange for immunity.

A March 14, 2005, memo notes that Aldrete-Davila’s mother had contacted the mother-in-law of a U.S. Border Patrol agent to talk about the shooting and a memo from four months later talks about an interview with that Border Patrol agent. Also, the immunity agreement offered to Aldrete-Davila promises no prosecution against him will result from his testimony and reveals that it was signed on March 15, 2005.

Andy Ramirez, chairman of Friends of the Border Patrol, says the documents raise questions as to why Sutton chose to prosecute the Border Patrol agents rather than the drug smuggler.

The White House also has invited Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. to talk about the issues.

Rohrabacher, who has expressed outrage at the confinement of the two law enforcement officers, said he has no doubt this is a response to pressure – including campaigns for a pardon and House resolutions to throw out the case – noting that previously the president and his senior staff would not return phone calls from him and other senior congressmen.

Rohrabacher previously told WND he considered the president’s handling of the case “disgraceful.”

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