Published January 17, 2007
Two Texas Border Patrol agents who shot a Mexican drug runner in the backside on the U.S. side of the border are hoping a last-ditch pardon from President Bush will save them from serving more than a decade in prison.
Several groups, including Friends of the Border Patrol, The Minutemen and Grassfire.org, have been trying through petitions to keep the agents out of prison — through either a motion to U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone to allow them to remain free on bond during an appeal or through a presidential pardon from Bush. About a dozen rallies took place across the country in support of the agents last week.
"Grassroots support for these gentlemen is just through the roof," said Grassfire.org spokesman Ron De Jong. He said people signing the petitions are saying to themselves, "'something just doesn't add up' and they're starting to make great waves."
"We are extremely hopeful that the light of justice will shine and this wrong will be right, because otherwise it would be an absolute travesty if these gentlemen had to go to jail for doing their jobs," De Jong added.
Compean and Ramos were found guilty in a jury trial of violating the civil rights of Osvaldo Aldrete Davila when they shot him in Fabens, Texas, about 30 miles east of El Paso, then tampering with evidence by picking up shell casings from the shooting.
The ex-agents say Davila had a gun, and that's why they fired at him, but a gun was never found.
In exchange for his testimony against the two agents, Davila was granted immunity from prosecution by the U.S. government for attempting to smuggle nearly 750 pounds of marijuana — which had a street value of over $1 million — into the United States on the day he was shot.
Several lawmakers, including Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas; Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.; and Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. last week sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking him to allow Ramos and Compean to remain free on bond pending the appeal of their convictions.
The letter also notes that several "discrepancies" in the government's case question whether justice has been served and that permitting Ramos and Compean to be jailed puts their lives at risk.
Petitions with more than 225,000 signatures will be delivered to the White House Tuesday afternoon, Poe told FOX News.
"Based on my experience as a former judge, I have looked at this case and our federal government was on the wrong side," Poe said Tuesday.
"They took the side of a drug dealer over the side of the border agents who were just doing their job. Prosecute the border agents and let the criminal go free," he said. "Injustice has occurred, so I think that both of these men who were convicted deserve to be pardoned by the president."
Earlier this month, a letter circulated by Poe and signed by 24 lawmakers requested that the Justice Department not oppose a motion filed to allow the men to remain free pending the appeal.
But Poe said he hasn't heard much from the Oval Office.
"We have been getting some information from low-level members of the attorney general's office," he said. "The White House has not contacted us directly, even though we corresponded with them several times and have called. I'm a little concerned about that."
White House: Look at the Facts
Last month, Bush issued 16 year-end pardons: Five cases involved drug crimes, while others involved bank fraud, mail fraud and the acceptance of a kickback.
In September 2005 the president pardoned 14 people, including a member of the mineworkers union who was convicted for his role in bombings at a West Virginia coal mine; a counterfeiter; several dealers of marijuana and LSD; and a bootlegger.
The president has pardoned 113 people since taking office in 2001.
White House spokesman Tony Snow last week would not comment specifically on pardon proceedings, but he said the facts presented in court showed that Ramos and Compean tried to cover up what occurred.
Apparently, when they tried to pull over Davila, someone pulled out a gun and a scuffle ensued, Snow said. Davila got out of the car and tried to run away, and the agents fired about 14 shots at him — one of which hit him in the "fleshy hindquarters," as Snow said.
Avila then made his way into Mexico, where the agents say a van picked him up.
"Now, at the time this happened, they did not know if he was an illegal. They did not know that there were 700 pounds of marijuana. They didn't know any of those things. But instead you had this," Snow said.
"They also 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, 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."
Ramos and Compean were convicted on 11 of 12 counts.
"The facts of this case are such that I would invite everybody to take a full look at the documented record," Snow said. "This is not the case of the United States saying, 'We are not going to support people who go after drug dealers.' Of course, we are. We think it's incumbent to go after drug dealers, and we also think that it's vitally important to make sure that we provide border security so our people are secure.
"We also believe that the people who are working to secure that border themselves obey the law."
He added: "I do think that there's been a characterization that somehow the government is turning a blind eye toward the law in enforcing the law."
Agent Says He Did Nothing Wrong
Compean, a married man with three children ages 12, 2 and 4 months — all of whom have been living with relatives since the incident — told FOXNews.com he's not even worried so much about whether he will get the pardon but what will happen to his family when he's gone.
"We've basically lost everything — all we have left is our car," he said, adding that his wife hasn't been working since she had their last child.
Compean has been going to school at El Paso Community College, pursuing an education degree on a GI bill; he served in the U.S. Navy from 1994 to 1999.
While he said the judge in the case had no choice but to go along with the sentence and abide by federal gun laws, Compean said Border Patrol agents are trained when to use their weapons, and firing their weapons was warranted in this case.
"That's what we're trained to do — we see somebody armed — they're obviously not going to surrender, as what was stated in court, that he was trying to surrender and he was simply trying to get home. That wasn't the case," he said.
Compean said his case is already causing other agents to be hesitant on the job.
"A lot of the other agents coming in now, they are afraid. They're afraid of drawing their weapons," he said, adding that a firearms instructor told him recently that he was asked by a student whether he had to wait until he was shot at before he drew his weapon.
"That's what's going on now. A lot of people are afraid to and I know they've been trained [to think] it hasn't affected morale and I know it has," he added.
Asked whether he would ever consider going back to being a Border Patrol agent if allowed, Compean, who spent five years on the job before the Davila shooting, said he's not sure.
"I would like to, just because I enjoy doing the job, but if it's going to mean having to be questioned every time I draw my weapon, then there's no way. That's going to get somebody killed. It may not be me but another agent — they're going to be hesitating."