Former U.S. Border Patrol agent Ignacio Ramos embraced his wife, Monica Ramos, two days before he was sentenced to 11 years in prison (Courtesy El Paso Times)
Amid protests and a flurry of last-minute efforts by congressmen, two border patrol agents are scheduled today to begin long prison sentences for their actions in the shooting and wounding of a Mexican drug smuggler who was granted full immunity to testify against them.
In an interview with WND, an angry Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., called President Bush a “disgrace” for refusing to pardon Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos, who were sentenced to 12 years and 11 years, respectively, in October. With hopes for a presidential pardon dwindling, the lawmakers had requested that Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez assist in a motion to keep the agents free on bond during the appeals process. But late yesterday, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso, Texas, ruled the men must surrender to federal marshals at 2 p.m. Mountain Time today.
“This is the worst betrayal of American defenders I have ever seen,” Rohrabacher told WND, referring to the president. “It’s shameful this was done by someone who is in the Republican Party. He obviously thinks more about his agreements with Mexico than the lives of American people and backing up his defenders.”
The California lawmaker, who has helped lead efforts to obtain a pardon, charged the Bush administration has been playing a “cruel game.” Initially, he said, officials insisted the agents could not be pardoned because they had not filled out the proper paperwork. But Rohrabacher told WND the White House did not explain to the public that the agents were being required – without justification, he contended – to first admit guilt.
Then, last Friday, presidential press secretary Tony Snow addressed the issue for the first time, arguing that prior to the shooting, the agents did not know if the smuggler, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, was an illegal alien, and they were unaware he had about 750 pounds of marijuana.
Compean and Ramos say they thought the smuggler had a gun, but no weapon was found.
The agents, Snow said, “had received arms training the day before; that said, if you have an incident like this, you must preserve the evidence and you must report it promptly.”
“Instead,” Snow continued, “according to court documents, they went around and picked up the shell casings. Furthermore, they asked one of their colleagues also to help pick up shell casings. They disposed of them.”
TJ Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing 1,500 agents, argued failure to report the discharge of a firearm is an administrative offense that, at the most, merits a five-day suspension.
“How that translates into 11- and 12-year prison terms is beyond me,” he told WND. “They fired at someone they believed had a weapon. He resisted their commands, assaulted one of the officers and then wheeled around and pointed something at them. Logic would say it would be a weapon.
“After all the Monday-morning quarterbacking, I would have to come to the same conclusion,” Bonner said. “He’s a drug smuggler, for God’s sake.”
The Department of Homeland Security sent an investigator to Mexico to offer the smuggler, Aldrete-Davila, full immunity in exchange for his testimony against the agents. Now, Aldrete-Davila is suing the U.S. Border Patrol for $5 million for allegedly violating his civil rights.
Agent Jose Alonso Compean (Courtesy: KFOX-TV)
Bonner said Ramos and Compean will be incarcerated at the El Paso jail this week then be moved to separate low-security federal prisons. He’s concerned about their safety.
“Bad cops are accepted by the prison population, but good cops are not,” Bonner pointed out. “They’ll be surrounded by people they arrested.”
Rohrabacher suggested Bush was sending the men to prison in order that his immigration policy not be disrupted.
“He talks about being a Christian, but he has shown no Christian charity,” the congressman told San Diego radio host Roger Hedgecock after speaking with WND last night.
Asked by WND for a response to Rohrabacher’s remarks, White House spokesman Alex Conant deferred to Snows comments on the case.
Rohrabacher told WND he sees a serious residual result of the administration’s handling of the agents.
“The word is out that the southern border is undefended,” he said. “Border agents won’t dare to draw their weapons, and the drug cartel will double their effort to drive a wedge in our border.”
Rohrabacher said he has been disturbed by an “arrogant” lack of response from senior Justice Department and White House officials who have “shoved over” their inquiries to lower-level staff.
“I’ve never seen an administration that does it this way,” he said. “In the past, if there is a senior member of Congress calling, it would require a call back directly from the administration official in question.”
The Justice Department did not respond to WND’s request for comment.
Bush has received a letter about the case from more than 50 Congress members, and yesterday an online petition by Grassfire.org with more than 225,000 signatures calling for a presidential pardon was delivered to the White House.
‘We both yelled out for him to stop’
As WND has reported, a federal jury convicted Compean, 28, and Ramos, 37, in March after a two-week trial on charges of causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and a civil rights violation.
Ramos is an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Naval Reserve and a former nominee for Border Patrol Agent of the Year.
According to the agents, Ramos responded Feb. 17, 2005, to a request for back-up from Compean, who noticed a suspicious van near the levee road along the Rio Grande River near the Texas town of Fabens, about 40 miles east of El Paso. A third agent also joined the pursuit.
Aldrete-Davila stopped the van on a levee, jumped out and started running toward the river. When he reached the other side of the levee, he was met by Compean who had anticipated the smuggler’s attempt to get back to Mexico.
“We both yelled out for him to stop, but he wouldn’t stop, and he just kept running,” Ramos told California’s Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
“At some point during the time where I’m crossing the canal, I hear shots being fired,” Ramos said. “Later, I see Compean on the ground, but I keep running after the smuggler.”
At that point, Ramos said, Aldrete-Davila turned toward him, pointing what looked like a gun.
“I shot,” Ramos said. “But I didn’t think he was hit, because he kept running into the brush and then disappeared into it. Later, we all watched as he jumped into a van waiting for him. He seemed fine. It didn’t look like he had been hit at all.”
The U.S. government filed charges against Ramos and Compean after giving full immunity to Aldrete-Davila and paying for his medical treatment at an El Paso hospital.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas issued a statement in September arguing “the defendants were prosecuted because they had fired their weapons at a man who had attempted to surrender by holding his open hands in the air, at which time Agent Compean attempted to hit the man with the butt of Compean’s shotgun, causing the man to run in fear of what the agents would do to him next.”
The statement said, “Although both agents saw that the man was not armed, the agents fired at least 15 rounds at him while he was running away from them, hitting him once.”
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