The same federal prosecutor, who denied victim-of-crime status to parents of Fast and Furious-slain Border Agent Brian A. Terry, indicted Aug. 3 two Border Patrol agents who over the night of Nov. 12 made four Mexican pot smugglers they caught in the Arizona illegally to eat their marijuana stash.
U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke
U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke, according to the Aug. 4 statement from his office, further accused Border Patrol agents Ramon Zuniga, 29 and Dario Castillo, 23 of ordering the four to remove their shoes and clothing, which they set aflame with their other possessions before abandoning them to the cold desert night along the Mexican-Arizona borderlands.
Both men were charged both the depriving and the conspiracy to deprive the Mexicans of their civil rights to protection from with the illegal search and seizure and under the color of the law, according to the statement. Castillo was also charged separately with witness tampering.
Special Agent Paul J. Leonard, who leads the Arizona Department of the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General Office, which includes Arizona, Utah and Nevada, said the four Mexicans were picked up the morning of Nov. 13, by another patrol.
“What people don’t realize is that the vast majority of the work done by the Border Patrol is search and rescue,” he said. All patrols are equipped with medical equipment and all officers are trained to provide first aid to individuals picked up in the borderlands.
Once the undocumented aliens were collected and taken in, their story started to come out, he said.
Based on the UDA’s story, border patrol agents found the crime scene, he said. “The fire was already out, but they found the burnt clothes, shoes and the slashed water bottles.”
It was after statements and evidenced was collected that the case was referred to inspector general’s office, which handles professional misconduct, he said. The initial case against the officers was completed within 24 hours of the Mexicans being rescued.
A Washington spokeswoman for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said the agents were charged with civil rights violations because they were operating under the “color of law.”
The color of law is the assumed authority from the afforded to law enforcement officers, she said. The abuse of that authority is a very serious crime and civil rights violation, she said.
The deprivation of a civil right under color of law and the conspiracy to deprive each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years federal incarceration and $250,000 fine.
The witness tampering charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years of federal incarceration and $250,000 fine.
The next step is for their arraignment in federal court in Tucson in front of U.S. District Court Judge David C. Bury, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002.
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