- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

Online exclusive

U.S. Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar, accused by the leadership of the agency’s rank and file of not supporting two agents convicted of shooting a drug-smuggling suspect, says they were found guilty of violating federal law and he accepts the criticism as “part of the job.”

In a memo to all Border Patrol personnel, Chief Aguilar said Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean were investigated by Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, indicted by a federal grand jury, convicted by a jury after a two-week trial and sentenced by a federal judge.

“The jury heard evidence that the agents shot an unarmed suspect who was running away from them and who did not pose any threat to them,” Chief Aguilar said in the memo Friday.

“As a 29-year veteran of this organization, I know it tears at every agent’s emotions to hear about cases like this,” he said. “However, as law enforcement officers, we also know that regardless of rank, each of us must perform his or her duties within, not above, our nation’s laws.”

The memo is the only public response Chief Aguilar has made on the case to rank-and-file agents since the March 2006 convictions of Ramos, 38, and Compean, 27, on charges of causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and a civil rights violation.

They were convicted of shooting a Mexican national in the buttocks as he fled back into Mexico after abandoning 743 pounds of marijuana near Fabens, Texas, and sentenced in October to 11 and 12 years in prison, respectively.

The convictions came after Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila was located in Mexico by Homeland Security investigators and returned to Texas under a grant of immunity to testify against the agents.

“Having served in the Border Patrol as a frontline agent, in various leadership positions in the field and at headquarters, and as your chief, I have come to expect the potential for criticism as part of the job,” he said. “Perhaps one of the greatest demands placed on us as law enforcement officers is to remain neutral, as we must, when one of our own is under federal criminal investigation.”

In his memo, Chief Aguilar also described press reports of the case and his “personal concern” for frontline field agents as “distorted and inaccurate,” reported by those who lacked “complete or accurate information.

“Emotions have been inflamed on both sides of the issue with sound bites, clips and quotes, often from the uninformed. Members of the media often do not have the capacity … to present all of the facts and evidence to the degree the prosecution and defense did before the judge and jury,” he said.

Chief Aguilar declined to respond to requests for comments on the no-confidence vote and the Ramos-Compean case. He also declined to answer a list of written questions submitted to his office.

The leadership of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents all 11,000 of the agency’s non-supervisory personnel, has been at the forefront of the criticism of Chief Aguilar. All 100 NBPC leaders approved a “no confidence” vote against the chief in February. The union has since filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the chief, saying he tried to “intimidate” field agents to discredit the vote.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority complaint said Chief Aguilar “willfully and blatantly” violated federal guidelines when he sent a top aide to seek a “show of hands” among field agents for those who supported the chief in the wake of the no-confidence vote — knowing the rank-and-file agents would not risk retaliation by publicly opposing the chief.

The no-confidence vote accused the chief of “shamelessly promoting” Bush administration proposals for a guest-worker program that would “reward illegal aliens and endanger field agents”; noted a “growing frustration among frontline employees with the misguided policies and politics” of the agency and the refusal of its top managers to speak out against them; and accused the chief of turning his back on agents targeted by federal prosecutors in criminal cases.

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