Marijuana found in the back of the van being used by Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila
A private investigator who was hired by former U.S. Border Patrol agent Ignacio Ramos during his trial on allegations he fired at a fleeing drug smuggler says he doesn’t think prosecutors made any significant effort to find the smuggler, later identified as Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila.
Freddie Bonilla told WND that his investigation of the Feb. 17, 2005, incident was straight-forward, and led him quickly to Aldrete-Davila’s identity, and he believes the federal government should have been able to do the same thing.
Bonilla, who was a homicide investigator with the El Paso Police Department and later the chief of detectives for the El Paso Sheriff’s Department, also has served for several decades as a private investigator.
In preparing for the defense of Ramos, who along with Jose Compean was accused of shooting at Aldrete-Davila when Aldrete-Davila’s van – loaded with drugs – was trapped by federal officers and he fled on foot back to Mexico, Bonilla said he started by looking at the van that Aldrete-Davila abandoned at the scene.
“Why didn’t the Drug Enforcement Administration track down the van to find out who the owner was?” Bonilla asked WND. “That van was physical evidence of the crime that was never seriously investigated. Yet, prosecutor [U.S. Attorney] Johnny Sutton has been all over the national media saying there was no physical evidence he could have used to prosecute Aldrete-Davila. What about the van?”
The two former federal agents now are serving prison terms of 11 and 12 years on their convictions for that incident, even though Aldrete-Davila never was charged with the drug case – or a subsequent drug smuggling incident – and in fact was given immunity to testify against the federal border agents.
In an interview WND published Jan. 20, Sutton said there was no evidence against Aldrete-Davila which could have been used to build a case against him at trial. He explained that was why he granted immunity, to gain access to information in return.
The van used by drug smuggler
But WND also has reported that a March 20, 2005 Department of Homeland Security investigative report filed by Jose Arredondo and vehicle towing receipts document that Aldrete-Davila was driving a 1989 Ford Econoline, bearing Texas license plate number 9GSW89.
At the same time, WND reported that the van was towed to the El Paso sheriff’s compound where it sat for approximately one month before the U.S. Border Patrol Evidence Team entered the compound, dusted the vehicle, and found 11 fingerprints, only three of which were duplicates.
But there’s no indication the DEA or Department of Homeland Security investigators ever examined the vehicle or the fingerprints for evidence that might have led to Aldrete-Davila.
Bonilla said he quickly tracked the vehicle to Jesus Beltran, an El Paso self-employed construction worker who buys and sells used cars to supplement his income. Then Beltran examined photos of the van provided by Bonilla, as well as wrecking company towing records, and identified it as one he purchased in 2004 from an El Paso wrecking lot.
He registered it under his name and kept it for five months, then sold it to a friend in Juarez, Mexico, for $1,300. The Texas plates on the car at the time of the Feb. 17, 2005, drug incident were registered to Beltran.
“If I could find the car and how it got down to Mexico,” Bonilla said, “then why couldn’t the DEA or the DHS have tracked down the car in the attempt to find out who the drug smuggler was? Right there I found out far more than anybody ever investigated for the Border Patrol.”
Even after Davila came forth on March 4, 2005, with the Mexican Consulate demanding the prosecution of the Border Patrol agents who shot him, Bonilla felt DEA and DHS should have investigated the van.
“If you tracked down Beltran’s friend in Juarez,” Bonilla argued to WND, “dedicated law enforcement in the U.S. might have uncovered the drug smuggling ring that hired Davila to run that load across the border.”
Bonilla provided WND with photos of the drug van at the levee, where Davila ran the two front wheels over the edge before he abandoned the vehicle in the attempt to escape on foot. Bonilla also provided photos of the 743 pounds of marijuana discovered in the van at the scene of the incident.
Another issue Bonilla raised was the cell phone found in the van after Aldrete-Davila fled. “There were a total of 9 Border Patrol officers on the scene Feb. 17, 2005, plus two supervisors. Why is it that the DEA or DHS never investigated the cell phone Davila left behind? That cell phone should have had valuable numbers in the memory that could have led to Davila or the drug syndicate he worked for.”
The telephone became a subject of questioning at the trial for Ramos and Compean, when Ramos defense attorney Mary Stillinger asked the smuggler about it, and he said he got it from drug dealers in Mexico who hired him to walk across the border, find the marijuana-loaded van with a key in the ignition and drive it away.
But there was a discrepancy between his testimony and the evidence observed by investigators:
Stillinger: The phone that was in the van, was that your telephone, or was that a telephone that was given to you for the purpose of helping you to do this transaction?
Aldrete-Davila: Yeah, they gave it to me when I got on the van. When they sent me there, they gave it to me. I didn’t have a telephone.
Stillinger: Okay. And they gave you the phone charger with it?
Aldrete-Davila: No, just the telephone.
Stillinger: Okay. So the phone charger – there was a phone charger in the van, wasn’t there?
Aldrete-Davila: I don’t know. They just gave me the telephone. I don’t know if there was a charger or not.
Aldrete-Davila further testified that the phone was Nextel and that the drug users used the radio feature, not the telephone, to communicate. He also testified that he did not plug the phone into a charger.
“The whole thing with the cell phone was ridiculous,” Bonilla told WND. “That cell phone should have been the first thing DEA or DHS should have been investigated to find Davila or his drug smuggling partners.”
“Besides, Davila was lying about everything,” Bonilla told WND. “He never explained how that white van on the other side of the Rio Grande knew to be there waiting for him when he ran away. Did he call his buddies when he was evading the Border Patrol hot pursuit? How come DEA or DHS didn’t look into whether Davila called anybody when he was running away?”
He also offered an explanation for why Compean and Border Patrol Agent Arturo Vasquez picked up the spent shell casings expended when Compean and Ramos fired at the fleeing smuggler.
“I was a firearms trainer in the Marine Corps,” Bonilla said, “and from the first day at the firing range through 26 years in law enforcement, it was hammered into my head that the first command after you finish shooting is to load and holster your weapon, and the second command is always, to pick up your brass or shell casings.”
He also suggested that Border Patrol supervisor Jonathan Richards, who was also on the scene in 2005, should have known there had been trouble. “Richards was the main supervisor at the scene and he was made aware there had been shooting, despite what he testified at trial,” Bonilla insisted. “Richards saw Agent Compean covered with dirt and bleeding from the face. But he convinced Compean that if Compean reported the matter, that it would require a lot of paper work, and then having to go to the F.B.I.”
That would corroborate an earlier report when WND examined the transcript of a May 15, 2005 job suspension hearing Compean had with El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief Louis Barker, in which Compean said Richards discouraged him from filing written reports after the incident with Davila.
Besides the Ramos-Compean case, there also has been an uproar over the conviction of Deputy Sheriff Gilmer Hernandez, who fired his weapon at a van loaded with illegal aliens he thought were trying to run him down. He was convicted for that and he’s scheduled for sentencing later this month.
Yet another that already has been resolved, at the expense of a former federal agent, involves David Sipe, who was accused of improperly hitting a coyote [someone who smuggles illegal aliens into the U.S.] while he was resisting arrest with a flashlight. He was convicted and sent to prison before an appellate court overturned his conviction, and he was acquitted during a re-trial in January.
However, Sipe lost both his career and marriage because of the charges against him.
Are you a representative of the media who would like to interview the author of this story? Let us know.