Thursday, January 18, 2007

The story Lou Dobbs isn't going to tell you

Last summer the story of two Texas Border Patrol agents facing charges for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler in the buttocks while he tried to escape apprehension started to make the rounds of the right wing press. Fox and Rush were quick to pick it up, as were many others, but perhaps no one latched on to the story as heavily as Lou Dobbs. Over the next few months, the case of agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean became a cause celebre for many anti-immigration hawks. From the Minutemen, to Rep. Duncan Hunter, the entire right–wing seemed to have joined in on the call for clemency in a case Dobbs called "an outright travesty of American justice."

What's been lacking in much of the hyperbolic rhetoric and grandstanding surrounding this case has been any regard for the truth.

In their zeal to paint Ramos and Compean as heroes, and use them as pawns in the bigger immigration battle, many of their supporters have neglected to explain exactly what the two agents did to eventually be convicted of a crime. Even now, as the two head off to jail, the actual events that put them behind bars have been either glossed over or totally misrepresented by both the politicians and the press.

tags: , , ,

There is a reason a jury found these two men guilty, and it has nothing to do with the politics of immigration reform or the fight against "our broken borders." It has to do with two rogue cops who overstepped the boundaries, then tried to cover up their crime. It's a story no different than that of Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, or more recently Sean Bell where law enforcement officers have used undue and unnecessary force resulting in injury or death. The fact that these particular officers patrolled the border rather than the Bronx or Compton doesn't make their actions any less odious, and it certainly doesn't make them heroes.

When the story first broke, it was presented to the American public by Lou Dobbs as the story of two innocent men persecuted by a government run amuck:

DOBBS: Support is flooding in from all across the country tonight for two border patrol agents in Texas who could be sentenced to 20 years in prison for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler. Amazingly, federal prosecutors allowed the smuggler to walk free -- they gave him immunity -- in return for testimony against those agents. That drug smuggler subsequently smuggled more drugs

Casey Wian reports from El Paso, Texas.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Border Patrol agent Ignacio Ramos shows us the Texas road where he first encountered a suspected Mexican drug smuggler last year.

IGNACIO RAMOS, BORDER PATROL AGENT: As soon as they passed me here, I just did a U-turn and followed them into town.

WIAN: Ramos and other agents followed his van which had earlier had tripped a hidden sensor near the border through the tiny town of Fabens, and then back toward the border.

RAMOS: To us, after many years of voting this area, when there's a vehicle away from a sensor and people running back south from that sensor, it usually means -- to us, that usually means that's a narcotics load.

WIAN: Ramos continued to pursue the suspected drug smuggler down this road, past fields, and to a canal just a few yards from Mexico.

RAMOS: He decided that he wasn't going to make it and he dumped the van right here, but the front of his van went right over the edge of the canal right there.

WIAN: The suspected smuggler fled into the canal, but another Border Patrol agent, Jose Compean was waiting for him on the other side. A scuffle ensued. The suspect fled, despite agents' orders to stop.

RAMOS: He made a move on Agent Compean to get around him. He got around agent Compean. It was at that time that I jumped into the canal to go help Agent Compean.

WIAN: Agent Ramos heard shots fired while he was in the canal.

RAMOS: I had to run up this area here, get over the levee, and when I got over on the other side, Agent Compean was on the ground. The suspect was running away from Agent Compean.

WIAN: Ramos said the suspect turned and made a motion as if to fire a gun at him.

RAMOS: I had my weapon in my hand, I picked up and fired.

WIAN: The suspect disappeared into the Rio Grande and reemerged on the Mexican side. Ramos said he appeared uninjured. It sounds like a simple story of a drug smuggler who got away, but 18 months later, Agents Ramos and Compean are facing 20 years to life in prison convicted on a variety of charges, including assault with a firearm, civil rights violations, and obstruction of justice for not reporting their weapons had been fired.

T.J. BONNER, NATL. BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: This is really the most outrageous miscarriage of justice that I'm aware of in my entire 28-year career as a Border Patrol agent. I've never seen anything so -- I can't even think of the word. This is like diving into a trash can. The deeper you dig, the more it stinks.

WIAN: That's because the smuggler whose van contained nearly 800 pounds of marijuana was shot in the buttocks by the Border Patrol agents. The assistant U.S. attorney in El Paso gave the smuggler immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony against the agents. And the smuggler was encouraged to cooperate by the relatives of another Border Patrol agent in Arizona.

RAMOS: I was doing the job the public entrusted me to do. They entrusted me to stop a drug smuggler and I did


DOBBS: Independent investigation in this case should mean an investigation of the inspector -- the inspector general's office as well, the Office of the Inspector General as it's framed.

There should be an investigation of the U.S. Attorney's Office who would even suggest that the rights of an illegal alien, drug smuggler, caught with the goods has rights superior to those of the agents that we depend on to enforce the law.

And admittedly, not many of our laws are enforced when it comes to border security and immigration, but my God -- and the U.S. Attorney's Office wouldn't even talk to us, Casey?

WIAN: We made several attempts to contact the office. They responded saying they would -- they referred us to the original press release, when these officers or these agents were first charged, but they would not agree to be interviewed by us, Lou.

DOBBS: Well, I have to say that the U.S. Attorney's Office, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted this has a lot of explaining to do, and we're going to be relentless in giving them the opportunity to do so on this broadcast.

Lou Dobbs Tonight, Aug 6, 2006

As presented, the case seemed pretty clear cut. The agents claimed that while pursuing a suspected drug smuggler a "scuffle" ensued and the "suspect ... made a motion as if to fire a gun". The agents then fired in self defense in the line of duty.

Since then, Congressmen have called for intervention from the Alberto Gonzales and a pardon from President Bush. There have been rallies staged and defense funds set up all in support of the "hero" border patrol agents.

In essence, the story as presented by Ramos and Compean's supporters has become definitive narrative on this case and has been accepted as fact by the vast majority of the American people

But a statement about the case from the US Attorney for the Western District of Texas, Johnny Sutton, presents a VERY different picture.

According to evidence presented by the Justice Department, Ramos and Compean are far from the innocent victims of an out of control government set on prosecuting innocent law enforcement agents for simply doing their job.

In response to misstatements and misinformation being reported in the media regarding the prosecution of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, relating to a shooting that occurred while they were on duty as U.S. Border Patrol agents on February 17, 2005, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas releases this advisory summarizing the evidence presented at defendants’ trial.

As will be demonstrated by the summary below, 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. 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.

On February 17, 2005, Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean were on duty along the U.S./Mexico border, working out of the Fabens Border Patrol Station. At approximately one o’clock in the afternoon, Agent Compean observed a van near the border about two and a half miles west of Fabens. According to the testimony, the driver of the van, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, failed to yield to Agent Ramos’ attempt to stop him, jumped out of his vehicle and attempted to run back to Mexico. After Ramos told Aldrete-Davila to stop, Ramos drew his service revolver and pointed it at Aldrete-Davila. Aldrete-Davila jumped into a steep ditch filled with dirty water and when he tried to climb the steep incline out of the ditch, he was confronted by defendant Compean, waiting for him with a shotgun pointed directly at him.

During his testimony, Compean acknowledged that at that time Aldrete-Davila held his hands up, as if to surrender, with his palms open, and no weapon was in either hand, or evident on his person. Another agent, who had arrived by this time and observed the scene, heard someone yell “hit him.” Aldrete-Davila, who was at one time a legal resident alien of the United States and speaks some English, also heard someone yell “hit him, hit him,” and specifically heard Compean yell: “Parate, parate, Mexicano de mierda.” (“Stop, stop you Mexican shit.”) According to testimony, Compean swung his shotgun around in an attempt to hit Aldrete-Davila with the butt of his weapon, but lost his footing and fell face down into the dirt and brush. Aldrete-Davila began to run to the river and did not look back. Agent Ramos also testified that when he saw Aldrete-Davila in the ditch, he had an opportunity to look at Aldrete-Davila’s hands, which he is trained to do for self defense and defense of another, and did not see any weapons in either of Aldrete-Davila’s hands. When Aldrete-Davila almost reached the river, but while he was still out in the open vega area, he heard numerous gun shots. Compean fired at Aldrete-Davila at least fourteen times and Ramos fired at Aldrete-Davila once.

At the time of the shooting, neither agent Compean nor agent Ramos knew that the van driven by Aldrete-Davila contained 743 pounds of marijuana. The evidence was un-controverted that, at the time the victim was shot, neither agent knew whether the driver was illegally in the United States or whether a crime had been committed. The only information they had was that the driver had failed to pull over to be identified.

DOJ, Western District Texas

Then the crime was followed by attempts by the agents to cover it up.

At the scene, Ramos told a supervisor that as the suspect fled from the vehicle, agent Compean was on the levee attempting to apprehend him. Defendant Ramos said that as the suspect tried to flee Compean either tried to grab the suspect, or did a “side to side” movement, but fell to the ground and got dirt in his eyes. Ramos did not mention the shooting, and said nothing about the suspect having a weapon. At the scene, when asked why he was so excited, Ramos told another agent that it was just the adrenalin that had him all pumped up.

An agent who encountered defendant Compean sometime later, away from the scene of the incident, testified that Compean told him, “That little bitch took me to the ground and threw dirt in my face.” Compean did not indicate that he felt threatened, that his life was in danger, or that the driver had a weapon at any time. Compean did show the agent nine shell casings that he had collected at the scene and indicated he was “probably missing five more casings.” Compean told the agent he had “fired some rounds...did a magazine exchange and fired some more rounds,” and asked the agent to look for the additional casings. The agent proceeded to the scene of the shooting, located the additional five casings, threw them into the drainage ditch and called defendant Compean, using his cellular telephone, to tell him he had found five rounds and threw them away.The removal of the shell casings from the scene made it impossible to do a complete investigation of the shooting.

Testimony elicited at trial clearly established that, until an investigation initiated at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General began on March 4, 2005, no written report had been filed, no oral report had been made, and no person in any official capacity was cognizant of the fact that a shooting had occurred or a firearm had been discharged by any Border Patrol Agent in the direction of an individual fleeing into Mexico after having failed to stop for immigration status identification on February 17, 2005. The only report of any law enforcement activity on file for the Fabens Border Patrol Station on that date was an Immigration and Naturalization form I-44, Report of Apprehension or Seizure, authored by both defendants and signed by Jose Alonso Compean.

DOJ, Western District Texas

Obviously the US Attorney paints a very different picture of the "hero" Border Patrol agents. It's a picture of bad cops abusing their power.

Had they not found Aldrete-Davila's marijuana after the fact, this would have been a clear-cut case of rogue cops using deadly force in a case that surely didn’t warrant it. Alderte-Davis's only crime as far as they were concerned was that he tried to run away back over the border. The drug possession, if known to them at the time, would have entered into their decision making process, but the facts clearly show that neither agent had any reason to believe that Aldrete-Davila was any more than your garden variety economic migrant crossing the border to find work. It is that fact that the jury chose to take into consideration when they convicted the two agents.

Based on all of the evidence admitted at the two week trial, including the lengthy testimony of both of the defendants, the jury of twelve citizens heard all of the testimony, judged the demeanor and credibility of the witnesses and unanimously found both defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of eleven of the twelve counts alleged in the indictment, including assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with serious bodily injury, discharge of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence and wilfully violating Aldrete-Davila’s Constitutional, Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal seizure, as well as obstructing justice by intentionally defacing the crime scene, lying about the incident, and failing to report the truth.

DOJ, Western District Texas

At the end of the day, no matter how much the anti-immigration forces want to paint this case as a referendum on border security, it comes down to just another case of the right-wing's inability to separate politics from the law and Constitutional rights. Just as they are willing to defend the treatment of those in Guantanamo or illegal wire-taps for political reasons, or allow the incarceration of American citizens in detention centers because of the immigration status of their parents, they have chosen to defend two rogue Border Patrol agents who clearly broke the law simply because they make for good political theater. Their inability to draw a line between what is legal and what is politically expedient has haunted the Right from Nixon until the present day so it comes as no surprise that they would once again be on the wrong side of this issue.


Mark said...

Apparently you're not aware of Title 8 USC Sec. 1325, and as a result, your article is factually ignorant. Why don't you stop ignoring it and start a petition to get rid of it or change it? Just go to the source of the problem. After all, thats whats causing all this controversy.

The Watchman said...

CNN will never curtail the xenophobia and racism pervasive on the Lou Dobbs show until more Americans express our disapproval of Lou Dobb's antics by boycotting Lou Dobb's advertisers!