What happened to justice in America? It certainly wasn’t served on July 28 when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the unjust convictions of Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. As it stands today, these two brave border protectors must now serve out their full 10-plus-year sentences for shooting and wounding a Mexican drug smuggler they encountered while he was carrying a million-dollar payload of narcotics along the Southern border in Texas. What started off as simple procedural mistakes by the agents has turned into an unimaginable travesty of justice unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my 30 years in Washington, D.C.
It’s difficult to reconcile why U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton would choose to seek out drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, in Mexico to offer him immunity, unconditional border-crossing cards and free medical care in exchange for his testimony against the border agents. Ramos and Compean did not wake up the morning of Feb.17, 2005, with the intention of committing a crime, unlike the illegal alien drug-smuggling “victim.” They put on their uniforms, strapped their weapons around their waists and pinned on their badges, as they had for five and 10 years respectively, with the intention of patrolling our borders to protect America.
It’s no secret our Southern border is a virtual war zone where our border patrol agents and local law enforcement officers are often outgunned and outmanned by the violent drug cartels. So when Agents Ramos and Compean testified they thought Davila pointed a weapon at them, wouldn’t that seem reasonable to assume given the dangerous conditions they face everyday along the border? Not according to U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, who decided to give the benefit of the doubt to a drug smuggler transporting a million dollars worth of drugs who said he was unarmed rather than siding with our law enforcement officers.
Sutton’s decision to throw the book at the agents by charging them with a federal civil rights violation under the color of the law and under the 924(c) statute (unlawful discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, which carries a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence) is not only despicable, but a dangerous precedent to set for every law enforcement officer in America. There has never been another instance where this statue, originally intended as a sentence-enhancement for drug traffickers and criminals, has been used against law enforcement officers acting within their scope of official duties. Every policeman has now been put on notice: Discharge your weapon in a split-second, deadly force situation and you, too, could face 10 years in prison if an overzealous prosecutor decides your decision was the wrong one.
Despite their disapproving posture during the Dec 3, 2007, hearing where (in which my Communications Director, Tara Setmayer, witnessed the appellate judges say first hand, “it does seem the government overreacted” in this prosecution), the judges, after almost eight months of deliberation, issued a 46 page ruling in complete contrast to what happened in court. The judges questioned why the prosecutors “stacked” the charges and got the government’s attorney to admit their drug-smuggling star witness “told some lies.”. What could have possibly happened between the hearing and now?
The appellate court claims that “the jury was the fact-finder”; “the jury heard all of the evidence…the case was conducted fairly and without reversible error.” But was it really? The jury was never told Davila was more than a one-time offender; smuggled drugs while under immunity, was in possession of a border-crossing card our government gave him, four months before testifying against Ramos and Compean and that he potentially violated his immunity agreement by not giving up any information about the cartel he was working for. Sutton’s office was well aware of these facts. It successfully petitioned the trial judge to seal that information from the jury and, to the chagrin of most reasonable people, the appellate court ruled that the protection of the Davila’s 5th Amendment rights outweighed the relevancy of his additional smuggling activities.
Unless President Bush shows Ramos and Compean the same Christian charity he used to commute the sentence of his friend Scooter Libby, two wives are without their husbands, and six children will be without their fathers for the next decade. If the President does not do the right thing by Ramos and Compean, their prosecution will be one of the worst black marks on this administration. I will continue to fight for these brave men because of their willingness to die to protect all of us. For every day they continue to spend behind bars, every American should be demanding answers to what happened to real justice in America?