Rep. Dana Rohrabacher yesterday asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to investigate what he called “the exceedingly harsh prosecution” of two U.S. Border Patrol agents now facing 20 years in prison for shooting a suspected drug smuggler in the buttocks.
“This proceeding has garnered national attention calling into question the administration’s commitment to secure our borders,” said Mr. Rohrabacher, adding that the two agents — Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean — “were simply doing their jobs to guard our homeland by attempting to apprehend an illegal drug smuggler.”
The California Republican’s letter also called for the agents’ sentencing next month to be postponed “due to significant concerns over the circumstances surrounding” their prosecution.
Mr. Rohrabacher joins a growing list of Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill who have asked for congressional hearings and reviews by the White House and Justice Department into the prosecution.
“It appears the facts do not add up or justify the length of the sentences for these agents, let alone their conviction on multiple counts,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said in a letter last month to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, requesting a full hearing into the matter.
“Undue prosecution of Border Patrol agents could have a chilling effect on their ability to carry out their duties,” she said.
In March, a federal jury convicted Ramos, 37, and Compean, 28, 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. The shooting occurred Feb. 17, 2005, near Fabens, Texas, about 30 miles southeast of El Paso.
Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, a Mexican national, was wounded as he ran from the agents along the Rio Grande. The agents said Mr. Aldrete-Davila had pointed at them what appeared to be a gun. Nearly 800 pounds of marijuana, worth $1 million, was found in the van Mr. Aldrete-Davila abandoned at the river’s edge, the Border Patrol said.
Mr. Aldrete-Davila, who was given immunity by prosecutors to testify in the case, received care at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso. He is suing the government for $5 million for violating his civil rights.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has called for a congressional investigation and open hearings on the case. The investigation is expected to begin before the end of the year.
Rep. John Hostettler, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims, has said that if the arrest, trial and conviction of the agents resulted in a chilling effect on others, “then it’s definitely something we should know about.”
Records show that after Mr. Aldrete-Davila was spotted in his van near the Rio Grande, Ramos gave chase while Compean circled around to head off the suspect. When Mr. Aldrete-Davila jumped out of the van and ran south to the river, he was confronted by Compean, who was thrown to the ground as the two men fought. Ramos said that when he arrived, he saw Compean on the ground and chased Mr. Aldrete-Davila to the river, where the suspect suddenly turned toward him and pointed what looked like a gun.
Ramos said he did not think the suspect was hit. He said Mr. Aldrete-Davila ran through the bush, jumped into an awaiting van in Mexico and sped off.
An investigator from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found Mr. Aldrete-Davila in Mexico, where he was offered immunity in exchange for testimony.
“This case represents the worst kind of distorted and upside-down values,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. “The drug smugglers are treated like innocent victims and the good guys protecting our borders are given the harshest possible punishment.”