Border Patrol Agents
Punished for Doing Thier Jobs
Punished for Doing Their Job
As two Border Patrol agents languish in prison, the Department of Homeland
Security is doing its best not to answer charges of wrongful, politically
On January 10, 2007, President Bush, in a prime-time address to the nation, lobbied for his new Iraq War policy, which included more troops and strengthening the interior borders of Iraq. This while at home he ignores securing our own borders and demoralizes our brave men and women of the Border Patrol who protect it.
Case in point: on January 17, 2007, former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean surrendered to U.S. Marshals inside the federal courthouse in downtown El Paso, Texas. As the agents' family members and supporters bitterly protested outside the courthouse, Ramos and Compean were placed in jail cells to begin serving their prison sentences. Agent Ramos has been sentenced to 11 years, agent Compean to 12 years.
Leading up to the day of the agents' imprisonment was a devastating 23-month ordeal. The agents' families have been bankrupted. They have lost their homes and are living with relatives. Their children will grow up without their fathers' guiding hands.
Making matters worse, the two agents are being sent to separate facilities far from home: Ramos to a prison in Mississippi, Compean to one in Ohio. This will not only make visits by their families more difficult and expensive, but will add to the families' anxiety over Ramos, and Compean's safety. Prisons are especially unfriendly places for inmates who are former law enforcement officers.
"I'm so utterly exhausted, tired and sad," Patty Compean told the Daily Bulletin of Ontario, California, on the day that the heavy jail-cell door slammed shut on her husband. Nevertheless, she said, "I still have a deep faith in God. I still believe there is hope." Part of that hope is that President Bush will respond to the urgent requests of dozens of members of Congress and to the hundreds of thousands of calls, letters, e-mails, and petitions calling for him to pardon her husband and the husband of Monica Ramos.
Miscarriage of Justice
What egregious crimes did agents Ramos and Compean commit to land in this situation? To have their promising careers ended, to be stripped of their freedom, to be torn from their families, to have their lives put in danger? They tried to stop a drug smuggler who had brought nearly 800 pounds of marijuana (worth nearly $1 million) across the border from Mexico in his van. The smuggler, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, scuffled with agent Compean, knocking him down and throwing dirt in his eyes. Compean says that as Aldrete-Davila ran on foot back toward Mexico, the drug smuggler turned several times and it appeared that the smuggler was pointing a gun at him. Compean fired at the fleeing suspect. Agent Ramos, hearing the shots and seeing his battered and bloody partner, also fired at the smuggler. However, they saw Aldrete-Davila wade across the shallow Rio Grande to the Mexican side, apparently unhurt. They watched as he climbed into another vehicle and assumed that their shots had completely missed him.
Unbeknownst to the Border Patrol agents, one of their bullets had struck the smuggler in the buttocks. Also unbeknownst to them, Mexican drug smuggler Aldrete-Davila is a boyhood buddy of Border Patrol agent Rene Sanchez, a naturalized Mexican who is suspected of ties to the Mexican drug cartels. Agent Sanchez encouraged Aldrete-Davila to bring a lawsuit against agents Ramos and Compean for violating his "civil rights." Incredibly, instead of investigating agent Sanchez and his ties to Aldrete-Davila, agents of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were sent to Mexico to find Aldrete-Davila, offer him immunity and free medical care, and bring him back to testify against agents Ramos and Compean.
Even more incredible, DOJ and DHS officials have helped Aldrete-Davila launch a lawsuit for $5 million against the U.S. Border Patrol. A key charge in the federal government's case against Ramos and Compean is that the two agents fired on an "unarmed" fleeing suspect: Aldrete-Davila. Agents Ramos and Compean say Aldrete-Davila was armed. The government says it has proof he wasn't. Their proof? The testimony of Aldrete-Davila, who has at least five million incentives to lie!
There are sound reasons for taking the word of these two decorated and highly regarded Border Patrol agents over that of the drug smuggler. Last fall, the Daily Bulletin interviewed a member of Aldrete-Davila's family in El Paso who confirmed that Aldrete-Davila has been smuggling drugs since he was 14 and "wouldn't move drugs unless he had a gun on him."
While Aldrete-Davila was waiting to testify against Ramos and Compean, he was arrested attempting to bring another load of drugs into the country. No problem: the prosecutors set him free again and suppressed mention of his drug arrest, so as not to harm his courtroom "credibility."
We do not have space here to detail the many other shocking abuses by federal prosecutor Debra Kanof, Judge Kathleen Cardone, and the Department of Homeland Security. Many of those were examined in more depth in this magazine's earlier investigation of this case.* Suffice to say, the offenses have been serious enough that a bipartisan array of House and Senate members have called for investigations of the trial and sentencing and have urged President Bush to pardon the Border Patrol agents.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who served as a judge for 22 years and a prosecutor for eight years, expressed the views of many when he charged Kanof with being an "overzealous prosecutor." "In my opinion," said Rep. Poe, "the government was on the wrong side. We ought to be more concerned about our border agents who were put in harm's way, who are shot at by these drug dealers than we are about the civil rights of the drug smugglers."
Chilling Effect on Border
Andy Ramirez, chairman of the California-based Friends of the Border Patrol, told The New American that the Compean/Ramos case "is the greatest miscarriage of justice I have ever seen." Moreover, says Ramirez, it "has sent a very loud message to the other Border Patrol agents: if you confront a smuggler, this is what will happen to you."
Other immigration experts agree that the ramifications of the Compean/Ramos case extend far beyond the personal tragedies of the two agents and their families; the impact is already having a serious effect on our border security. Bob Stille, who served 37 years in the Border Patrol and INS, recently told The New American that the prosecution of Ramos and Compean has sent shudders through the ranks of the Border Patrol. "As a lifelong Republican and a conservative Christian, I am outraged that a Republican president who postures as a conservative Christian would so unjustly prosecute these two agents for what I see as doing their job." "From comments I have heard by the present-day agents, there is a serious morale problem in the Border Patrol."
Stille said, "I am seeing men and women retiring with a minimum amount of service time. I have also been told that there will be a rash of retirements this year, many by top staff officers. My impression is that there is a lot of sadness within the ranks."
Mr. Stille, who spent the last 19 years of his career as a supervisory agent in charge of four different Border Patrol stations on both the Mexican and Canadian borders, says: "I attribute the morale problem to the open-border policy by the Bush administration. I have heard of incidents where agents are told to look the other way. They are not allowed to arrest illegal aliens who have gained entry.... We are under an illegal-alien crime wave in this country and our primary enforcement arm is being restrained from doing their duty. Or worse, as in the case of Ramos and Compean, going to prison for doing their duty."
The blow to agent morale is multiplied, says Stille, by the president's insistence on granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and issuing pardons to street criminals. (See the sidebar on page 16.) "When I read that President Bush pardoned a bunch of convicted criminals this past Christmas, some of whom were convicted drug dealers, I was incensed," he told The New American. "What a slap in the face to the brave men and women in the Border Patrol when they saw two of their own denied the same."
After receiving enormous pressure from concerned patriotic organizations and Congress, the White House was forced to respond. While President Bush primarily regurgitated the same dodges and disinformation that the DOJ had been dispensing, he did hold out the possibility of a future pardon.
"According to a jury of their peers, these officers violated some standards," Bush said, in a January 18 interview with an El Paso TV station the day after agents Ramos and Compean turned themselves in to federal custody. "People need to take a tough look at the facts, the evidence a jury looked at, as well as [the] judge. And I will do the same thing."
But the American people and their elected representatives are taking "a tough look at the facts" — at least at the facts the Bush administration has been willing to release. What President Bush and the DOJ are attempting to keep carefully hidden is that, in addition to the prosecutorial and judicial abuses mentioned above, three members of the Ramos/Compean jury say they were misled during jury deliberation. Jurors Robert Gourley, Claudia Torres, and Edine Woods have said that they did not want to support a guilty verdict for the Border Patrol agents and would have held out for a hung jury, except that they were improperly instructed that that was not an option. They said they were instructed by the jury foreman — who claimed to be relaying instructions from the judge — that they "must" vote to convict the agents. The agents' attorneys and members of Congress cited these charges by the jurors, along with the other alleged improprieties, as cause for postponing the sentencing of Ramos and Compean while the case is appealed and while Congress investigates the allegations.
On January 19, Rep. Michael T. McCaul (R-Texas), the immediate past chairman of the Homeland Security Investigations Subcommittee of the House of Representatives, sent a letter to his Texas delegation colleagues, urging them to join his efforts "in uncovering the facts surrounding the conviction and sentencing" of agents Ramos and Compean. "During the last five months," McCaul states in his letter, "due to my deep concern over the fate of these Agents, I have relentlessly requested information detailing the facts surrounding this case from both the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and the Department of Justice. To date, both Agencies have defied the will of Congress and refused to cooperate meaningfully with my efforts to uncover the truth."
McCaul's letter then details date by date his multiple requests of, and communications and meetings with, DHS and DOJ officials — and their string of broken promises, changing stories, and stalling tactics.
The McCaul letter relates a meeting he and three other House members had on September 28 during which they were briefed by the DHS Deputy Inspector General and Assistant Inspector General. At the briefing, the officers of the Inspector General made several serious allegations against agents Ramos and Compean that they said they would subsequently document for the congressmen.
One of those charges, according to McCaul, is that "Ramos and Compean confessed to knowingly shooting an unarmed suspect. Again — they claim the two agents KNEW he was unarmed when they fired their weapons." Another charge, says Rep. McCaul, is that "Ramos and Compean stated that day they 'wanted to shoot a Mexican.'"
Agents Ramos and Compean deny these and the other charges made by members of the Inspector General. However, the DHS Inspector General officers told the congressmen that the Inspector General's Report of Investigation would corroborate these charges and that the report would be released on October 23, 2006, the day after the sentencing of the agents. Rep. McCaul and his colleagues are still waiting for the long overdue evidence, but they now realize that the administration has "no intention" of providing the promised report. Rep. McCaul and other Members of Congress also requested (and were promised) transcripts of the trial around the same time. Like the Inspector General report, they have been repeatedly stalled on this matter too, and still have not received the trial transcript.
On January 18, 2007, says McCaul, "I spoke personally to DHS Secretary Chertoff to express my disbelief and anger that DHS IG has made potentially misleading claims to Members of Congress and not provided substantiating documentation as promised." Secretary Chertoff told McCaul that he would personally speak to Inspector General Skinner. "It is patently clear to me, after five months of delay by the Department of Homeland Security, that they have no intention of providing the information I requested to get to the facts surrounding the case."
In response to the uproar this case has generated, 70 congressmen have signed on to legislation introduced on January 18 by Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) calling for the convictions of Ramos and Compean to be vacated and for the two agents be released from custody immediately.
In a press release issued on the introduction of H.R. 563, Hunter said, "Agents Compean and Ramos fulfilled their responsibilities as Border Patrol agents and rightfully pursued a suspected and fleeing drug smuggler. It is irresponsible to punish them with jail time." Rep. Tom Tancredo, meanwhile, has introduced House Concurrent Resolution 37, expressing "the sense of Congress that the President should swiftly and unconditionally pardon Agents Ramos and Compean."
When asked why the White House refuses to intervene on behalf of the two agents, Andy Ramirez of Friends of the Border Patrol told The New American, "This administration is so predictable when it comes to everybody but American citizens. President Bush is always talking about securing Iraq's borders, securing Afghanistan's borders, but never our borders." Ramirez points also to the president's State of the Union address on January 23, where Bush once again employed his trademark immigration double-talk, claiming to be opposed to amnesty while proposing a legalization program that is the same thing as amnesty for millions of illegal aliens. In the same address, President Bush also reiterated his call for a "temporary worker program" that would bring hundreds of thousands of additional alien workers (and their families) into the United States, further swamping our already overwhelmed immigration system.
Perhaps Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) put this whole distorted scenario into perspective when he stated, "They [the Bush administration] got their priorities totally backwards. We should be backing up our defenders, finding reasons to help our defenders, and finding reasons to put the bad guys away. Our President is treating the bad guys like good guys and the good guys like bad guys."
Americans still have an opportunity to help insure that this perverse injustice is reversed, that our government will stop treating these good guys like bad guys. President Bush is not likely to grant agents Ramos and Compean pardons out of personal conviction; his inaction in their case thus far and his actions regarding immigration matters, in general, make that all too clear. But he may be convinced to do so out of expediency since he is now under tremendous pressure over the war, the economy, and other issues, and desperately needs to placate conservatives who have been his staunchest supporters.
A pardon is important for righting a terrible wrong against agents Ramos and Compean and their families. It is also vitally important to our nation's security, as it will send a message to our Border Patrol agents on the front lines that they can go back to the crucial job of enforcing our borders and protecting our homeland without fear of being thrown to the wolves.
* See "Betrayed in the Line of Duty" in our September 18, 2006 issue and online at http://www .thenewamerican.com/betrayedlod.html.
GOP Congressmen Speak
"Today is a day of infamy and disgrace. The policies set down by this president [are] sending the defenders of our borders to prison while rewarding illegal alien drug smugglers. Shame on you, President Bush. You have betrayed us and our defenders." — Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.)
"Due to significant concerns over the circumstances surrounding the prosecution of agents Ramos and Compean, the House Judiciary Committee has already recognized the need for a thorough review of this case by calling for congressional hearings and an investigation of the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Attorney's Office." — September 13, 2006 letter signed by 22 congressmen
"If the facts I have laid out are accurate, then this prosecution puts the rights of illegal alien drug smugglers ahead of our homeland security and undermines the critical mission of better enforcing current immigration laws." — Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
"All I say is that Mr. President, if you're going to consider Mr. Kennedy's amnesty for 12 million illegal aliens, couldn't you just add two more border patrol agents onto that list?" — Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.)
"Over the Christmas break, the president of the United States pardoned 18 felons. Five of those people were drug dealers.... But we cannot even get a response to the letters we have sent asking him to pardon the Border Patrol agents. What greater example of where this president's priorities are than that?" — Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.)
"The federal government was on the wrong side in this case. This drug dealer was not just bringing in a little bit of marijuana.... What better two people should be pardoned than border agents doing their jobs trying to protect the United States?" — Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas)
Pardons for Drug Dealers
President Bush has thus far ignored the pleas of hundreds of thousands of Americans who petitioned for pardons for agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. However, he has pardoned a number of convicted criminals, including recently. On December 21, 2006, President Bush pardoned these drug offenders:
• Marie Georgette Ginette Briere — possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
• George Thomas Harley — aiding and abetting the distribution of cocaine.
• Patricia Ann Hultman — conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and other controlled substances.
• Eric William Olson — possession with intent to distribute, possession, and use of hashish.
On the same day, Bush also commuted the sentence of Phillip Anthony Emmert, who was serving time for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
On September 28, 2005, President Bush pardoned these drug offenders:
• Adam Wade Graham — conspiracy to deliver LSD.
• Larry Paul Lenius — conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
• Larry Lee Lopez — conspiracy to import marijuana.
• Mark Lewis Weber — selling Quaalude tablets, selling, using and possessing marijuana.
On the same day, he also pardoned Jesse Ray Harvey, a United Mine Workers union member convicted of blowing up mines in West Virginia.
Ex-border agent beaten in prison, family says (5:31 p.m.)
Family members of Ignacio Ramos, the former El Paso Border Patrol agent
imprisoned for shooting a drug smuggler in the buttocks and not reporting
it, said Ramos was beat up by other inmates Saturday.
Bureau of Prison officials could not be reached for comment this evening.
Marine Federal Prosecution
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