Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ramos-Compean treatment has border agents hesitating to fire

On December 1 south of Tucson, Arizona, drug smugglers unloaded $1 million in drugs across the U.S. border and sprayed bullets at U.S. Border Patrol agents with automatic weapons. The agents did not return fire. They fear losing their jobs or ending up behind bars like agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean.

Former decorated border agents, Ramos and Compean are serving lengthy prison sentences for shooting an illegal alien drug dealer while he smuggled 750 pounds of marijuana across the border. They were convicted of assault, discharge of a weapon in the commission of a crime of violence and deprivation of civil rights after the drug dealer was given immunity from prosecution.

On December 22 President Bush issued 19 pardons and commuted one sentence, but has issued none as yet for Ramos and Compean. Lawmakers and many others have asked Bush to commute their prison sentences. Bush will leave office January 20.

'Any kind of shooting toward Mexican territory is rejected by the Mexican government,' Mexican Consul General Remedios Gómez Arnau warned Border Patrol agents.

After this month's incident, an anonymous officer said that agents often fear defending themselves because shooting back could mean prison time – just as it did for Ramos and Compean.

'These men are still in prison for doing what many of us think was just doing their jobs as Border Patrol agents,' he said.

11 comments:

Denis Drew said...

Until 1968 the rule in (liberal) New York State was to fire a warning shot over the head of EVERY fleeing suspect and then, if he did not stop, shot to kill. I recently watched a fictional reenactment of this typical for the era policy on a 1961 Naked City TV rerun.

This easy shooting policy was the target of the US Supreme Court precedent (Tennessee v. Garner, 471 US 1, 1985) that protected fleeing suspects from indiscriminate shooting.

Believe it or not (I can hardly believe it myself but I was there and it was a big story) in 1968 New York State changed its deadly force rule to:
A police officer may not draw his gun even upon entering the scene of a reported armed robbery, even if the suspect has drawn his gun -- unless -- the suspect points his gun at the officer. Which new rule quickly got a police officer killed in Queens, New York; leading a quick legislative reversal.

If -- when? -- a border patrol agent gets killed because he or she was afraid to use deadly force because of what happened to Ramos and Compean then maybe their conviction will be reversed or pardoned. You should try to report as many close calls as possible to get them released first.

Denis Drew said...

The excuse for trying these border agents under the civil rights act was the Supreme Court decision taking away the discretion to shot a fleeing suspect if the officer is not certain the suspect had a gun -- which the border agents were honest enough to admit.

But this ruling was in answer to the wide spread practice of the era to give the police officer complete discretion to shot any fleeing suspect. Up until 1968 it was the RULE in (liberal) New York State to shot to kill EVERY fleeing suspect after firing a warning shot (saw this practice enacted recently in a 1961 episode of the Naked City TV series).

But a MEXICAN (maybe not an Irishman -- no kidding here) who abandons a van and violently assaults an officer to escape is 99.9% certain to be in fear of doing 20 years for major drug trafficking and just as certain to be carrying a gun (otherwise Mexicans, even coyotes, NEVER assault border agents -- for those from parts of the country who are not familiar).

The totality of circumstances in the border guards case is not that of a 16 year old burglary suspect climbing over a fence with his back turned as in the high court precedent. There was no question of the mortal danger for the officers here -- meaning the discretion to shot could not sensibly be denied -- meaning there was no grounds for the civil rights case.

Precedents have to evolve in accordance with circumstances. Sufficient mortal danger to the officers = discretion to use deadly force cannot be categorically denied = no excuse to bring a civil rights charge.

patriotjoan said...

During my past 17 months of public advocacy for Ramos and Compean in Dallas, TX, many people who stopped to talk with me revealed that they or a family member or friend had once considered joining the Border Patrol, but ditched the idea after seeing what had happened to Ramos and Compean.

Ken Prescott said...

There was no question of the mortal danger for the officers here -- meaning the discretion to shot could not sensibly be denied -- meaning there was no grounds for the civil rights case.

Actually, there was CONSIDERABLE question of the alleged mortal danger, and a jury did not find the claims credible. Mostly because Ramos and Compean only made those claims after the Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot questions started getting asked.

If I were to act in the same fashion as Ramos and Compean did--say, hypothetically, if a man were to break into my house, and I were to (a) not report to the cops the fact that I capped off an entire magazine at him, (b) dispose of the physical evidence before the CSI folks could look at it, and (c) tell a tale of how I was in imminent danger only AFTER the burglar turned up at the hospital with one of my bullets in his butt ("really, officer, I was in fear for my life, yeah, that's the ticket!")--I would be looking at 20 to life for attempted murder and obstruction.

Those entrusted with the responsibility to enforce the law must behave to a higher standard than those who aren't--or those who enforce the law will inevitably cease being our servants and become our masters.

Denis Drew said...

Folks,
Don't let "Kens" get to you. I comment on a lot of blogs, mostly progressive economic and political blogs (got one of my own that a few people actually look at :-]) and "Kens" are a normal phenomenon. Trolls aren't all bad: they make me come up with some good ideas. "Kens" are irresponsible but you can't get too mad at them -- they are either in their teens or past their teens and can't get a date. :-)

Ken,
We normally only try cases when it seems beyond reasonable doubt that the officer was NOT in mortal danger.

In the federal civil rights case the DEFINITION of not in mortal danger was supposed to be back turned, not sure the defendant had a gun -- as prescribed in the Garner case. Problem is "not sure" CAN mean a reasonable concern about mortal danger despite the seeming one-size-fits-all Garner definition. The Garner case was a reaction to rules of the era allowing the use of deadly force JUST TO PREVENT ESCAPE -- which was very common in the era. I read in the paper at the time the words of Justice White: "It is better for all felony suspects to escape than for all felony suspects to be killed." The focus was on the value of human life v. the value of catching the suspect.

Again (if you are not from a border area you may not be familiar with this) Mexicans are extremely passive in the face of law enforcement -- they just don't fight back. If a Mexican assaults a pretty good sized officer leaving him sprawled and flees leaving a van behind you have more than reasonable cause to believe he is, number one, in extreme fear of doing 20 years for a van load of drugs (this perp is now doing 10 years) and, number two, he has a gun. The totality of circumstances in this case is not what the "not sure" in the Garner case had in mind.

The issue is not whether there was "considerable question" of mortal danger -- the border officers said they were not sure the fleeing suspect had a gun -- the question is of how much discretion is allowed the officers if they had reasonable fear of mortal danger.

If anyone thinks someone cannot turn around and kill you before you stop them, see the last scene in the movie Breathless. Richard Gere (fastest hands in Hollywood -- seen him do similar before) picks a gun off the ground and shoots the older officer who is holding a gun on him before the officer can pull his trigger. Used to be that fast at everything myself -- it can happen.

Denis Drew said...

Last week, a Bart subway officer in San Francisco shot a handcuffed detainee who was lying on the ground in the back -- on camera -- and was not even arrested for a week. If he explains that he thought he had a Taser in his hand and not a gun he will likely get off.

Ramos and Compean shot a 99% sure armed and desperate to avoid decades in the dungeon drug dealer -- whom they claim aimed what looked like a weapon at them. If they had not admitted being uncertain it was a gun he pointed at them they would not have been prosecuted -- under what the prosecutor took to be a one-size-fits-all Supreme Court ruling against shooting a fleeing suspect without certainty the suspect has a gun.

Which ruling should really be taken to fit suspects for whom there is no indication they have a gun (a wide spread policy of the era which the ruling was clearly aimed at). Even if the fleeing drug dealer had not pointed something at them, they still should have had discretion to shoot because the totality of the circumstances (99% sure armed and desperate) made for a reasonable perception of mortal danger.

Ken Prescott said...

Last week, a Bart subway officer in San Francisco shot a handcuffed detainee who was lying on the ground in the back -- on camera -- and was not even arrested for a week. If he explains that he thought he had a Taser in his hand and not a gun he will likely get off.

Only if the jury buys it--and I think that is not a likely outcome. In that case, "get off" means--at best--that he "only" gets convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Ramos and Compean shot a 99% sure armed and desperate to avoid decades in the dungeon drug dealer -- whom they claim aimed what looked like a weapon at them.

They only claimed it to be so after they'd already been caught out having submitted a false report that said nothing much had happened aside from the suspect absconding back into Mexico.

If they had not admitted being uncertain it was a gun he pointed at them they would not have been prosecuted -- under what the prosecutor took to be a one-size-fits-all Supreme Court ruling against shooting a fleeing suspect without certainty the suspect has a gun.

You're neatly glossing over the false official statement and the destruction of evidence.

Denis, destruction of evidence, false reports, and other attempts at concealment of material facts have always been viewed in the same light: as consciousness of guilt. They always have been. They always will be. If you were to engage in such actions subsequent to shooting somebody, the cops would cheerfully send you up to prison for attempted murder and obstruction--and they would be absolutely right in doing so.

For a guy who complains about the totality of circumstances somehow not being considered by the prosecutor, you are militant in your refusal to consider the totality of Ramos and Compean's actions. Ramos and Compean, if they were not guilty of a criminal act, went out of their way to act guilty.

As I've said elsewhere, I would've been willing to accept it as an honest mistake at the very worst--but in order for me to say "honest mistake," Ramos and Compean would've had to have been honest from the outset.

Troutbum said...

Ken, you're not in possession of some critical facts here.

First, it is mandatory under ICE rules that you get authorization to fire from a supervisor before drawing your weapon. "Uh, sir, I'm in a firefight and my partner is dead, may I please draw my weapon?" Also, if I'm not mistaken, under executive order (Clinton, I believe) BP officers are not allowed to draw their weapons unless they are confronted with a weapon pointed at them. At this point, it's too late.

What I am saying is that the Border Patrol bureaucracy all the way up to the Chief Executive has hamstrung the field officers to the point that they WILL be criminalized during the course of their work, period. Under those rules, I probably would have attempted to hide the incident also, because it's a certainty that no matter your situation, you've been turned into a criminal.

The drug smuggler, Davila, was flown by our government from Mexico back here to testify against the officers. He was given immunity for his smuggling and he sued for his injuries.

Why would any reasonable person think that the law is watching out for them when you have a U.S. Attorney going to these lengths to ensure that anyone attempting to enforce border security is Public Enemy #1?

Regardless of what the people vote for, our government has its' own agenda for our borders, laws be damned.

Ken Prescott said...

First, it is mandatory under ICE rules that you get authorization to fire from a supervisor before drawing your weapon.

That's an extraordinary claim, Please supply equally extraordinary proof.

What I am saying is that the Border Patrol bureaucracy all the way up to the Chief Executive has hamstrung the field officers to the point that they WILL be criminalized during the course of their work, period. Under those rules, I probably would have attempted to hide the incident also, because it's a certainty that no matter your situation, you've been turned into a criminal.

Again, an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary proof.

Why would any reasonable person think that the law is watching out for them when you have a U.S. Attorney going to these lengths to ensure that anyone attempting to enforce border security is Public Enemy #1?

Again, please supply proof of your claim that "anyone attempting to enforce border security" has been prosecuted. The standard of proof for such a claim would be either (a) proof that Ramos and Compean were the only agents to ever attempt to "enforce border security," or (b) any agent who ever made an arrest or seized contraband was prosecuted for doing so.

Hint: I'm not going to hold my breath while waiting for you to back up your hyperbole with cold, hard facts.

I will cheerfully explain to you who IS Public Enemy #1: cops who violate the laws they are sworn to enforce. We started winking at federal LEOs who did this starting in the late 1980s, and we've had such landmark moments in law enforcement history as Ruby Ridge and Waco for doing so.

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." -- George Washington

katy said...

It was so sad to know that these Agents were jailed for doing their job. We often visited the border. We know how dangerous it is. These men put their own life on the line to protect our border. Look what we have done to them. Yet we granted entry for the criminal who brought drugs into our country to testify against our own Agents. To also sue our government for 5 million dollars for violating his “CIVIL RIGHT”. Again, the prosecutor, I don’t think he/she care about the children who are affected by all the drug he brought in. The prosecutor must have enjoyed all the drug that was brought in by people like Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila to prosecute our Agents and free the drug smuggler to keep the supply line.

This story had changed my heart completely on serving this country. I always wished my husband and my family members to join law enforcement, not anymore. Not in a million years. It’s not worthy for us to put our life!! on the line for these stupid prosecutors.

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