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July 20, 2007

Justice Denied - Free the Texas Three!

“It is not honorable to take mere legal advantage, when it happens to be contrary to justice.” –Thomas Jefferson

(This is the first in a two-part essay about frontier justice along our southern border. As a former uniformed law enforcement officer, I know that, sometimes, frontier outlaws are best deterred with frontier justice.)

On 17 February 2005, two U.S. Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, were patrolling the El Paso County, Texas, frontier with Mexico in order to secure our border. Both men were experienced agents – Ramos was a 10-year veteran and a former nominee for “Agent of the Year”; Compean had served for five years.

At midday, Ramos and Compean attempted to stop a known drug smuggler, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, and check his vehicle. Aldrete-Davila fled from his vehicle and ran toward the Mexican border with the agents in hot pursuit on foot. Ramos and Compean fired 15 rounds at the smuggler at intervals when he turned toward them, but were unable to capture him before he crossed the border.

Border Patrol supervisors responded to the scene, and the agents did not file a report on the shooting because they assumed Aldrete-Davila had not been injured. Upon inspection, it was determined that the vehicle Aldrete-Davila abandoned contained 743 pounds of marijuana.

Two weeks later, Aldrete-Davila’s mother called a friend in the U.S. and complained that her son had been shot. A Department of Homeland Security investigator, Christopher Sanchez, contacted Aldrete-Davila and learned that he indeed had been shot in the buttocks.

Sanchez contacted Johnny Sutton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, and a Bush administration insider. He worked for then-Governor George Bush’s General Counsel for five years before the President-elect asked him to be policy coordinator for the Bush-Cheney Transition Team in 2000. (“Policy coordinator” – that explains why the Bush administration is sideways with everyone else in America on the immigration issue.) Sutton was appointed to his current U.S. Attorney post by President Bush on 25 October 2001.

Second-guessing field agents from the comfort of his leather chair and air-conditioned office in El Paso, Sutton concluded that the agents had violated rules of engagement that require an officer to believe he is subject to threat of deadly assault before using deadly force. He then granted Aldrete-Davila a “humanitarian visa” and immunity from the drug-smuggling charge if he would return to the U.S. and testify against Ramos and Compean. Sutton then drew up criminal charges against the agents for assault with a deadly weapon, inflicting serious bodily injury and violating Aldrete-Davila’s civil rights.

“Civil rights,” my buttocks. There was no ethnic, religious or racial motivation for this shooting. (It is worth noting that El Paso County is 80 percent Latino, and Ramos, Compean and Aldrete-Davila are all Latino.) This was a case of two agents, charged with securing our borders from the plague of illegal aliens (including those smuggling drugs), two agents trying to do their job against all odds.

Aldrete-Davila accepted Sutton’s offer and returned to the U.S. He received medical treatment at taxpayer expense from the William Beaumont Army Hospital in El Paso.

Adding insult to injury, according to concealed evidence from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Aldrete-Davila, while awaiting the trial of Ramos and Compean (and still subject to the immunity grant from Sutton), became, and remains, a prime suspect in the smuggling of 750 pounds of marijuana from Juarez, Mexico, to Clint, Texas. That evidence was not presented at the Ramos and Compean trial, however – ostensibly so as not to tarnish the name of a known drug smuggler…

To the dismay of their fellow agents and the nation, Sutton secured convictions against Ramos and Compean based on Aldrete-Davila’s claim that he was unarmed. For the record, major drug dealers travel armed and dangerous, and any law-enforcement officer who wants to get home for dinner had better assume the same.

Ramos and Compean were sentenced to 11 and 12 years in prison, respectively, and began serving those sentences on 17 January 2007. Both men leave behind wives and three children, each.

While the agents violated the law and agency policy by firing on the suspect, assuming Aldrete-Davila was telling the truth about being unarmed and assuming the agents did not believe he was armed – even if both assumptions are correct – the sentence does not fit the crime.

Meanwhile, Aldrete-Davila, understandably emboldened by the lottery element of American justice, has filed a $5-million lawsuit against the U.S. government for violating his civil rights.

Upon further investigation, it turns out that Ramos and Compean are not Sutton’s only “uniformed victims.”

On 14 April 2005, Edwards County, Texas, Sheriff’s Deputy Guillermo Hernandez stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation. Once Hernandez had exited his patrol car, the driver attempted to run him down and flee. Hernandez fired several shots at the vehicle, attempting to flatten a tire. One of those shots pierced the trunk of the car and wounded one of several illegal aliens whom the driver had concealed there. The Texas Rangers investigated the shooting and cleared Hernandez of any wrongdoing.

A year later, however, Sutton reopened the case, and on 16 December 2006 he got a conviction against Hernandez for violating the civil rights of the injured illegal. Hernandez was sentenced to a year in prison and is now serving that sentence.

El Paso has strong cultural and economic ties to Mexico, so strong that Latino juries are willing to convict Latino law enforcement officers who pursue Latino illegals. Clearly, however, justice has not been served in either of these cases.

In the Ramos and Compean case, California Reps. Duncan Hunter and Dana Rohrabacher have vigorously defended the agents and called on President Bush to commute the sentences prior to incarceration.

“This is the worst betrayal of American defenders I have ever seen…. [President Bush] obviously thinks more about his agreements with Mexico than the lives of American people and backing up his defenders,” said Mr. Rohrabacher. “Our border agents risk their lives daily to uphold our immigration laws and defend our borders. If the conviction of Ramos and Compean is an indication of how our government will repay them, we can be certain good men and women will soon flee the ranks of Border Patrol service.”

Mr. Hunter added, “This is the most severe injustice I’ve ever seen with respect to the treatment of U.S. Border Patrol agents or, I might add, the treatment of any uniformed officers.”

Yet President Bush has refused to consider a commutation, fearing he might offend some of his Latino constituents. Consequently this week, 180 days after Ramos and Compean surrendered to U.S. Marshals to serve their sentences, Senate Republicans and Democrats responded to the national outrage and held hearings on the case.

At the conclusion of those hearings, liberal Sen. Dianne Feinstein and conservative Sen. John Cornyn called on President Bush to commute the agents’ sentences, noting that the hearings “confirmed the concerns raised by many members of the public: that this penalty levied on these agents is excessive and that they deserve the immediate exercise of your executive-clemency powers.”

President Bush says he will review the case prosecuted by his “dear friend” Sutton but has not committed to commute the sentences of Ramos and Compean.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Please take a moment to sign Free the Texas Three and Secure our Borders, a national petition calling on President Bush to commute the sentences of both former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, and their colleague, former Sheriff’s Deputy Guillermo Hernandez; asking Congress to insist that the DEA prosecute Mexican national Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila on felony drug distribution charges; and demanding that Congress and the Bush administration secure our borders. (If you don’t have Web access, you can sign this petition by sending a blank e-mail to: [email protected])

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