- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Two illegal aliens have agreed to a $100,000 out-of-court settlement after threatening a multimillion-dollar civil rights lawsuit against a Texas deputy over an incident in which the lawman shot at an alien-smuggling vehicle he said tried to run him down.

Maricela Rodriguez-Garcia and Candido Garcia-Perez, Mexican nationals who were being smuggled into the U.S. in April 2005 when they were injured by fragments of the lawman’s bullets, agreed to the amount after a mediation hearing in Austin, Texas. They initially asked for $1.5 million.

Mrs. Rodriguez-Garcia, struck by bullet fragments in the cheek and mouth, and Mr. Garcia-Perez, injured when fragments hit him in the arm, had targeted Edwards County, Texas, Deputy Sheriff Guillermo F. Hernandez, saying he used excessive force in causing the injuries and that in firing at the vehicle abused his authority and grossly overreacted under the circumstances.

Hernandez has been sentenced to prison in the incident.

Edwards County Sheriff Donald G. Letsinger, who also was targeted in the pending lawsuit, said his deputy was cleared in an initial investigation by the Texas Rangers, which found that Hernandez “followed the letter of the law” in defending himself. He said charges were brought only after the matter was turned over to the FBI and to U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, who last year also won convictions against two U.S. Border Patrol agents who shot a drug-smuggling suspect as he fled back into Mexico.

“This is very bothersome to me,” Sheriff Letsinger told The Washington Times. “Whether it’s a U.S. citizen or a Mexican national, I just don’t think the taxpayers should have to pay someone who broke the law and, in this case, someone who committed a crime by illegally trying to enter the United States.

“It’s not any different than paying off a bank robber who happens to get shot on his way out of the bank,” he said. “In this case, the two conspired to break the law and when they got caught tried to run down my deputy.”

Hernandez, 25, was sentenced March 19 by U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson in federal court in Del Rio, Texas, to one year and one day in prison and ordered to pay $5,347 in damages to Mrs. Rodriguez-Garcia. The judge also ordered three years of supervised probation and an additional $5,000 fine.

He was convicted on charges of violating “under the color of law” the civil rights of Mrs. Rodriguez-Garcia during the Rocksprings traffic stop.

Hernandez told investigators that the driver of the vehicle tried to run him down after he stopped him shortly before midnight for running a red light. As he approached on foot, he said, he spotted at least eight persons lying down inside the vehicle. He said he fired shots at its rear tires as it sped off after trying to run him down.

Mrs. Rodriguez-Garcia and Mr. Garcia-Perez 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 $100,000 settlement figure was recommended by the West Texas Rural Counties Association, an insurance pool that will pay the amount. Sheriff Letsinger said attorneys for the association concluded it would have cost at least that much to respond to a lawsuit in court.

The settlement agreement also included a promise from the two Mexican nationals that they would not pursue any further litigation against the deputy, the sheriff or Edwards County.

Sheriff Letsinger said Hernandez does not plan to appeal the conviction, saying “he just doesn’t trust the system anymore and I’m sure you understand why.”

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