- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A former U.S. Border Patrol agent sent to prison for 24 months for violating the civil rights of a Mexican national caught crossing illegally into the United States says three other lawmen convicted by the same federal prosecutor face “real danger” in prison when other inmates find out who they are.

Gary M. Brugman, who served time at the Federal Detention Center in Yazoo City, Miss., after his 2002 conviction by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in San Antonio, told The Washington Times he made a vest of newspapers and duct tape and wrapped magazines around his waist everyday to protect himself from being stabbed by other inmates.

“Every morning, I would wake up and ask myself if I was really there,” said Mr. Brugman, released from prison last March. “I still have a very hard time accepting what happened. It’s extremely hard to find a time and place to cry when you’re a grown man in prison.”

Mr. Brugman, a nine-year U.S. Coast Guard veteran, was housed at Yazoo City for nine months the same facility where former Border Patrol Agent Ignacio Ramos is held. Ramos was assaulted Feb. 3 by inmates who learned his identity after watching “America’s Most Wanted.”

Ramos, 37, and Jose Alonso Compean, 28, were sentenced in January to 11- and 12-year prison terms, respectively, for shooting a drug-smuggling suspect in the buttocks after he abandoned 743 pounds of marijuana on the border near Fabens, Texas. Compean is housed at the Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, Ohio.

Edwards County, Texas, Deputy Sheriff Guillermo “Gilmer” Hernandez was convicted by Mr. Sutton in December for shooting at a truck loaded with illegal aliens after the driver tried to run him down. He faces sentencing Monday, when he could receive up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors said he violated the civil rights of an illegal alien in the van when a metal fragment hit her in the lip.

“Having served the government for many years, I experienced many things that scared me. But being a federal agent in prison was sheer terror,” Mr. Brugman said. “The inmates have ways of finding out who you are and knowing all of the details about your case by the time you arrive.

“I know exactly what Ramos and Compean are going through and what Hernandez faces,” he said.

Mr. Brugman was indicted in January 2001 on charges of using unreasonable force “under the color of law” while trying to detain Miguel Angel Jimenez-Saldana, an illegal alien who sought with nine others to cross the border through a pecan orchard near Eagle Pass, Texas on the Rio Grande about 150 miles southwest of San Antonio.

Accused of pushing the man to the ground with his foot, Brugman pleaded not guilty at a jury trial in October 2002, but was convicted in a case argued by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Baumann, the same man who prosecuted Hernandez.

In prosecuting the three agents and the deputy, Mr. Sutton said law-enforcement officials must be held to the same legal standards as everyone else.

But Mr. Brugman questioned why a convicted drug smuggler that he arrested in the same border location six weeks later was called as a witness in his case. Miguel Angel Rodriguez-Silva was escorted by U.S. marshals to the Texas court to testify saying Brugman broke his nose during a fight in February 2001 when the agent sought to arrest him for bringing marijuana into the United States.

Although the incident was reported by Mr. Brugman and Rodriguez-Silva never filed a complaint against the agent, the Mexican national was a key government witness.

Court records show that Rodriguez-Silva was among a group of six to eight people spotted on infrared cameras at about 5 a.m. carrying bundles into the United States, all of whom scattered when they were approached by agents, including Mr. Brugman.

“We had caught four when the camera operator notified me that two others were hunkered down in the brush not too far away,” Mr. Brugman said. “Once they figured out that I could see them, they took off running towards the river. I gave chase and continuously yelled for them to stop.

“After chasing them though a barb-wire fence, I somehow got flipped and ended up on my back with a dope smuggler sitting on top of me. We had each other by the neck and collar, and he had my right hand pinned to the ground,” he said. “I twisted my right hand free and hit him on the side of his face knocking him off of me.”

Mr. Brugman said when Rodriguez-Silva attempted to grab his handcuffs, “I punched him in the face three times” and then laid on top of him until help arrived. Rodriguez-Silva later pleaded guilty to four felony counts of possession of marijuana for distribution and sale and was sentenced to 57 months in prison. He was bringing 830 pounds of marijuana into the U.S. at the time of his arrest.

“I have no idea what relevance Rodriguez-Silva had with what I was being charged with,” Mr. Brugman said. “No allegations were ever made that I had, in any way, violated any Border Patrol policy when I apprehended him.”

In the case that landed him in court, Mr. Brugman responded to a sensor alarm when he spotted and chased on foot 10 illegals running through the orchard, yelling at them in Spanish to stop. Two other agents, Marcelino Alegria and Remberto Perez, responded in the vehicles and caught the illegals at an irrigation ditch, where they were ordered to sit on the ground.

Mr. Brugman said one of the illegals Jimenez-Saldana was on one knee behind Agent Alegria, who had been on the job for four days. He said when he ordered him to sit down, Jimenez-Saldana failed to do so and he pushed the man down with his foot.

“It seemed he didn’t have control of the situation,” Mr. Brugman said of the trainee agent. “There were aliens in front of him, to his left and behind him two of whom were squatting on one knee, looking at his back and making lunging movements.

“I didn’t know if they were getting ready to run or attack the agent,” he said. “I ran up to the aliens and with the bottom of my foot, pushed the first one to the ground and told him to sit down.”

There was no mention of the incident in a report written by the two other agents on the apprehension of the 10 illegals.

Fourteen months later, Mr. Brugman said he got a “target letter” from Mr. Baumann saying a grand jury had been called to investigate the Jimenez-Saldana arrest.

“Today, I’m just trying to piece my life back together,” he said. “As strange as it may sound to some, I would jump at the chance to have my job back at the Border Patrol. I was a good agent, and I am still a loyal American. No amount of lies will ever change that.”

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