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Smuggling suspect got immunity in case of convicted border agent
Question of the Day
A suspected drug smuggler, whose 2008 arrest resulted in a two-year prison sentence for a U.S. Border Patrol agent accused of violating his civil rights, was interviewed by officials at the Mexican Consulate in Texas and later made available to testify against the agent under a grant of immunity, records show.
The suspected smuggler, then 15, told Mexican officials he had been beaten and threatened by agent Jesus E. Diaz Jr. following his Oct. 16, 2008, arrest near Eagle Pass, Texas. Consulate officials interviewed the teenager just hours after he had been detained.
In a letter that same day to the Border Patrol, the consulate officials demanded the agent be prosecuted and complained they had not been notified of the arrest, learning about it through another source, who was not identified. They said that after their interview, the teenager was repatriated to Mexico, where he would be made available to testify in the case.
The consulate officials also accused Diaz of using excessive and unnecessary force, striking the youth several times in the ribs, threatening to hit him again if he didn't reveal where the drugs had been stashed, and lifting his handcuffed arms behind his back.
In a handwritten note attached to the consulate letter, the teenager said he entered the United States illegally with six other persons, crossing the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass. He said the group had stopped to rest when they were joined by others who carried backpacks with drugs. He said Border Patrol agents spotted them, and he was placed under arrest.
In Spanish, the teenager wrote that Diaz used excessive force, lifted both his arms behind his back while he was handcuffed, forced him to the ground by putting his knee in the teenager's back, and kicked him in the ribs. In the statement, he said the abuse lasted seven minutes.
The teenager also said he did not know anything about the drugs reportedly being carried into the United States, although the U.S. attorney's office on the day of the Diaz sentencing said that during the trial, the teenager had "admitted that he was smuggling marijuana at the time he was apprehended."
Defense attorneys argued there were no injuries or bruises on the teenager's lower arms, back or ribs, and the only marks on his body came from the straps of the pack he reportedly carried containing the suspected drugs.
Diaz, a seven-year Border Patrol veteran whose wife and brother also are Border Patrol agents, was cleared by both the Homeland Security Department's inspector general and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Office of Professional Responsibility. The Internal Affairs Division at U.S. Customs and Border Protection ruled differently nearly a year later, and the agent was indicted in November 2009.
Diaz, 33, who pleaded not guilty in the case, was sentenced on Oct. 20 to 24 months in prison.
Court records show the suspected smugglers had ditched backpacks containing drugs when they spotted the agents. Later, agents found 150 pounds of marijuana.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, questioned Diaz's prosecution in a letter this week to President Obama, saying that despite claims in the document filed by the Mexican Consulate, there was no evidence of misconduct.
Mr. Hunter questioned the credibility of the suspected smuggler and noted that the same West Texas prosecutors had brought charges against Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, whose sentences were later commuted by President George W. Bush.
"The Department of Justice needs to produce its evidence against Agent Diaz," Mr. Hunter said on Wednesday. "This document shows that Mexico was involved in his prosecution, and the smuggler's testimony evidently outweighed previous reviews that cleared agent Diaz of any wrongdoing."
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