A Department of Homeland Security investigation of the 2005 shooting of a drug-smuggling suspect by two U.S. Border Patrol agents yesterday said the agents covered up the incident and tried to assault the alien, but the report fails to substantiate earlier accusations that they wanted to “shoot a Mexican.”
The long-awaited and heavily redacted report by the department’s Office of Inspector General was billed as a substantiation of the government’s conviction of Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, who were sentenced to 11- and 12-year terms, respectively, for shooting a Mexican national in the buttocks after he abandoned a marijuana-laden van and fled across the border.
Although the 77-page report concludes that the agents covered up the shooting, tried to assault Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila with the butt of a shotgun as he fled to Mexico and failed to report the incident to their supervisors, it falls short of statements by the Inspector General’s Office in September to a House subcommittee.
The office had told lawmakers that the officers confessed to knowingly shooting at an unarmed suspect and that they did not think he was a threat, they wanted to shoot a Mexican and they lied to investigators.
Rep. John Culberson, Texas Republican, yesterday said Inspector General Richard L. Skinner has “admitted under oath” his office gave false information to Congress “painting Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean as rogue cops who were not in fear for their lives and who were ‘out to shoot Mexicans.’ ”
Mr. Culberson called for Mr. Skinner’s resignation because “he lied to us.”
“In my opinion, this false information was given to members of Congress to throw us off the scent and cover up what appears to be an unjust criminal prosecution of two U.S. law-enforcement officers whose job was protecting our country’s borders from criminals and terrorists,” Mr. Culberson said.
Mr. Culberson also said that although Ramos and Compean may not have followed proper procedure after the shooting, at most it “should have resulted in their suspension from the force, but not criminal prosecution.”
“At a time when Homeland Security has left our borders largely undefended and deployed National Guardsman whose standard operating procedure is to retreat when confronted with armed criminals, the unjust prosecution of Agents Ramos and Compean weakens border security by discouraging all U.S. law-enforcement officers from drawing their weapons in self-defense or in the defense of our nation,” he said.
Ramos, 37, and Compean, 28, were convicted on charges of causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in a crime of violence and a civil rights violation in their attempted arrest of Mr. Aldrete-Davila.
Their lengthy sentences have drawn widespread criticism, including from some members of Congress. Petitions with more than 260,000 signatures have been presented to President Bush calling for pardons. Seventy members of Congress are co-sponsors of a bill by Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, calling for a congressional pardon.
The government brought the charges after Mr. Aldrete-Davila agreed with Homeland Security investigators to testify against the agents in exchange for immunity, protecting him from facing drug charges in this country.
The report relies heavily on Mr. Aldrete-Davila’s statements, who admitted to IG investigators he was paid $1,500 to smuggle 743 pounds of marijuana into the United States. It said he sought the money to pay the medical bills of an unidentified relative.
It also said that at least three other Border Patrol agents knew about the shooting, did not report it to supervisors, destroyed evidence or made false statements to IG investigators. The agents agreed to cooperate in the probe after getting letters from federal prosecutors noting their cooperation.
At least six other agents knew about the shooting, the report noted. None of the nine agents was identified.
The IG’s report noted that after Ramos and Compean spotted Mr. Aldrete-Davila’s van along the border with Mexico and attempted to stop him, the Mexican national fled first in the van and then on foot. It said Compean confronted the man and “tried to hit him in the head with the butt of his shotgun.”
It said Mr. Aldrete-Davila then ran south and both Ramos and Compean fired shots at him, Ramos hitting him once in the buttocks. The report said the agents did not report the shooting as required and, instead, “covered up the crime scene by removing the spent shell casings that were ejected from their pistols during the shooting.”
The report also noted that Mr. Aldrete-Davila, during a meeting with IG investigators at the U.S. Consulate office in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, took drugs across the U.S. border to earn money to pay for the medical bills of a relative. It also said he denied saying he was putting together “a hunting party” to shoot Border Patrol agents in revenge for him being shot.
The Border Patrol considered the threat sufficient enough at the time to issue an alert to all law-enforcement agencies along the border to be on the lookout for Mexican gangs looking to kill federal agents.
Compean denied trying to hit Mr. Aldrete-Davila with his shotgun, the report said. It noted that the agent said when the Mexican national ignored his orders in Spanish to stop and put his hands in the air, Mr. Aldrete-Davila ran at him and he used the butt of the weapon to “push him away from me.”
The report said Compean and Mr. Aldrete-Davila “confronted” each other at the ditch and the agent fell into the water as the Mexican national continued to flee.
“I got some dirt in my eyes and he got up and started running south, he was pointing something shiny with his left hand. It looked like a gun. That is when I started shooting,” Compean told investigators. “I did not report the shooting because I did not think anything happened to the guy.”
Mr. Aldrete-Davila was picked up by a waiting vehicle after he crossed the river into Mexico.
The report’s delivery comes five months after it had been requested by Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican and former chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on management, investigations and oversight.
Expressing “deep concern over the fate of these agents,” Mr. McCaul asked his Texas colleagues last month in a letter to join with him in urging Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to order the report’s release, saying he had “relentlessly” sought the document without success.