Saturday, February 17, 2007

Free Nacho (and José)?

The article from today's Washington Post considers the case of two border patrol agents who were arrested and convicted for shooting an unarmed Mexican drug smuggler. Since their incarceration, however, there has been a groundswell of conservative support to have the officers pardoned. Here's an overview of why these agents landed in jail:
According to a report by the DHS inspector general's office, the incident that landed the agents in trouble started on Feb. 17, 2005, when Asvaldo Aldrete-Davila, an admitted Mexican drug smuggler, drove across the border into Texas with 740 pounds of marijuana. He saw Border Patrol agents trailing him, panicked, and drove into a ditch.

During the chase that followed, Aldrete-Davila scuffled with Compean after the agent tried to smack him with the butt of a shotgun. The agents said they saw something in the suspect's hand and feared for their lives, according to the report and court testimony.

A fuselage of bullets from Compean and Ramos missed. Finally, Ramos took careful aim as Aldrete-Davila neared the border and hit him in the buttocks.

After the shooting, the agents collected all shell casings at the scene, threw them away and did not mention the shooting to superiors, a violation of Border Patrol procedures that call for an oral report after a weapon is discharged, according to the report and court records.

Investigators granted immunity to Aldrete-Davila to lure him back across the border. The story he told was corroborated by other officers at the scene, the report said.

In March last year, Ramos and Compean were found guilty of multiple charges, including assault with a dangerous weapon, discharge of a firearm in commission of a crime, and tampering with a crime scene. Judge Kathleen Cardone issued an 11-year prison sentence to Ramos and a 12-year sentence to Compean in October. The agents appealed to a higher court, and their conservative supporters started to pressure Bush to release them.

Okay, so the agents have been convicted on serious charges, and by all accounts, they have had a fair trial (st least, that is not the issue of the protests). They were incarcerated in Yazoo City Federal Correctional Complex in Mississippi, and Ignacia (Nacho) Ramos was beaten bloody by members of a Latino gang in prison. Based on this incident, at a minimum, the officers should be moved to a place where they will be safe. It was pure stupidity to lock them in a prison with convicted Latino gang members, and whoever decided to send them to prison should lose his/her job.

But again, the protesters are not demanding that the convicted Border Patrol agents be moved to a safe place to serve their terms. They want them pardoned. Why, you may ask. It appears that many believe the officers should have been suspended, and not convicted of a crime. It also appears that there is controversy surrounding the testimony of the shooting victim, Asvaldo Aldrete-Davila. He was granted immunity in return for his testimony about the shooting, which critics say make him an unreliable witness (although I think we can all agree that professional criminals never make good witnesses).

What seems to be lost in this over-passionate debate are the facts: 1) did the BP agents break the law (and not just DHS policy) and 2) did they receive a fair trial? It is pretty clear that, regardless of what they believed about Asvaldo Aldrete-Davila (they thought he was armed, which is why they shot at him), covering up the scene and disposing of the shell casings is illegal. If they did not receive a fair trial, then they should make that argument in court.

The rule of law should be followed, and no amount of protesting should result in their pardon.

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