A deputy sheriff who fired shots at a sport utility vehicle after he said the driver tried to run him down faces up to 10 years in prison during sentencing today in a Texas federal court.
Edwards County Deputy Sheriff Guillermo F. Hernandez, 25, has been held without bond since his Dec. 1 conviction after a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Del Rio, Texas, on charges of violating "under the color of law" the civil rights of Maricela Rodriguez-Garcia.
The woman, a Mexican national, was being smuggled into the United States when she was struck in the lip by bullet or other metal fragments after an 11:50 p.m. traffic stop in Rocksprings, Texas, in April 2005. Hernandez said he fired shots at the vehicle's rear tires as it sped off after being stopped for running a red light.
The deputy, who had been with the force for a year at the time of the incident, was acquitted on a second count that he also "willfully shot" a second person in the vehicle, Candido Garcia-Perez, also a Mexican national being brought into the country illegally.
Sheriff Donald G. Letsinger has defended his deputy, saying he "followed the letter of the law" in defending himself in the April 14, 2005, incident and has questioned why the government brought charges.
The deputy's conviction has sparked anger in Rocksprings, population 1,250.
"The town is outraged that this has happened to our deputy," said the Rev. Albert Green, pastor at the First Baptist Church. "Those people were in this country illegally, and they tried to run him down."
The deputy was prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, who also won jury convictions last year against two U.S. Border Patrol agents who fired shots at a drug-smuggling suspect as he fled back into Mexico after abandoning a van containing 743 pounds of marijuana.
Agents Ignacio Ramos, 37, and Jose Alonso Compean, 28, were convicted of causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in a crime of violence and a civil rights violation, and sentenced to 11 and 12 years in prison, respectively.
The smuggling suspect, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, was wounded but later returned to the United States to testify against the agents under a grant of immunity.
In the deputy's case, Sheriff Letsinger said an investigation found that Hernandez approached the vehicle, found only the driver sitting upright and suspected others in the vehicle were illegal aliens. He said the driver, after being asked to step out of the vehicle, pulled forward and turned into the deputy.
Thinking the driver had tried to run him over, he said Hernandez fired at the vehicle's rear tires. He said at least one of the people inside the vehicle confirmed the driver had turned it into the deputy.
Mrs. Rodriguez-Garcia and two other occupants of the vehicle told investigators they paid $2,000 each to be taken across the Rio Grande from Acuna, Mexico. They said they later met the vehicle's driver and a "guide," who were to take them to Austin and Dallas.
The driver of the vehicle and the guide were never apprehended. None of the occupants in the vehicle was charged.