McALLEN, Texas – A former U.S. Border Patrol agent who was convicted in 2001 of violating an illegal immigrant's civil rights during a fight has been cleared of the crime in a second trial.
David Sipe, 35, of Bethany, Okla., said he wants his old job back and wages lost during his hiatus from the Border Patrol.
"After having this over my head the last seven years, I am almost at a loss as to how I am supposed to behave now," Sipe said after Friday's verdict. "I haven't had a job that pays more than $9 an hour because when you are a pending felon nobody hires you.
"There is a lot of time that I lost that I don't get to have back."
In 2001, a federal jury found Sipe guilty of hitting Jose Guevara of Mexico in the head with a flashlight during an arrest near Penitas, which is just west of McAllen in South Texas.
Sipe argued that he was defending himself. Guevara required five staples in his head and later won an $80,000 lawsuit settlement from the government.
Sipe requested a new trial on the grounds that prosecutors suppressed evidence that would have helped his defense. U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa granted Sipe's request, and a federal appeals court upheld the Hinojosa's ruling.
According to court records, prosecutors withheld information such as benefits the government gave illegal immigrants used as witnesses in the case, including the right to work and travel freely in the United States. Court records also showed that the defense withheld accurate criminal histories of witnesses, and information about a personal dislike of Sipe by a fellow agent who saw Guevara first after the beating.
Defense attorney Jack Wolfe condemned the government's handling of the 2001 case, saying part of the testimony was "bought and paid for."
After Friday's verdict, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen told Sipe the second trial could have easily resulted in a guilty verdict. He admonished Sipe to handle authority carefully when dealing with anyone with less power.
"I think it's important that you understand, well, one, which I am sure you do, given the history of this case, that this decision could have easily been a guilty verdict," Hanen said, according to the court transcript.
Donald DeGabrielle Jr., U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas, said the jury in the second trial could have been influenced by the fact that Guevara couldn't identify Sipe years after the incident.
"It was a difficult case and we certainly don't like to lose cases; however, we respect the decision of the jury in this case, as we always do," he said. "I think the judge's comments in open court speak volumes about the way the case was tried."