On his last full day as president, George W. Bush commuted the prison sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, two former Border Patrol agents who were sent to prison for crimes they committed related to the shooting of a Mexican drug smuggler.
Who are Ramos and Compean?
If you listen to the activists, union officials, bloggers, and politicians who have championed them, they are heroic law enforcement officers wrongly convicted for defending America from an onslaught of criminal activity flowing northward from Mexican drug cartels.
Jurors, however, apparently heard another story.
On February 17, 2005, Mexican drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete Davila was spotted trying to cross the border with 743 pounds of marijuana in a van. Overtaken by agents, Davila attempted to surrender.
But instead of arresting Davila, Compean tried to butt-stroke him with a shotgun. When Compean missed and lost his balance, Davila took off. Compean then fired 14 shots at the fleeing Davila, missing with each shot. Ramos, claiming he saw something shiny in Davila’s hand, fired and dropped Davila with a bullet in his buttocks.
Again, Compean and Ramos failed to arrest Davila. Instead, they left the wounded drug smuggler to bleed on the ground.
Compean policed up his brass — an incredibly incriminating act — and both officers filed false reports. Neither disclosed that they had discharged their weapons. Quite literally, they tried to get away with attempted murder.
And they probably would have, had Davila not taken the extraordinary step of filing charges against the agents who tried to kill him.
Upon being charged, these agents became convenient symbols, and far too many good people tried to justify their behavior through the prism of their own beliefs. Border Patrol officers saw them as fellow officers unfairly accused of trying to do the impossible job of securing a border that too many Americans don’t want secured. Political forces on both sides of the debate raging over illegal immigration and closing the nation’s southern border also found Ramos and Compean to be excellent poster boys for their political campaigns. Politicians in border states — particularly Texas, where the shooting took place — turned their case into a campaign issue.
But Compean and Ramos are anything but heroes. They are not good cops unfairly accused.
They illegally fired weapons at a fleeing man who was no threat to them. Once they shot him, they didn’t try to arrest him; they left him bleeding from his wound. They then tried to cover up their illegal shooting, committing other crimes in the process of the cover-up.
They deserve the jail time they got.
And so while President Bush commuted their sentences on January 19 as an outgoing sop to Texas politicians, both Democrat and Republican, he didn’t do justice in the process. Two years is not enough time for law enforcement officers who attempted murder, who left a wounded man they shot to fend for himself, and who then tried to cover up their crimes.
Commuting their sentences after two years? Perhaps sentences of 11 and 12 years were a bit excessive to some — I’m not convinced that it was — but two years for these crimes seems a light penance for such reprehensible acts.
Granted, Compean and Ramos were provided commutations, not pardons. Their records are not expunged and they are still convicted felons. They will never be law enforcement officers again. They simply won’t have to finish out their sentences.
Is that enough? No.
If criminals such as the drug smuggler Davila think they are better off taking their chances shooting it out with law enforcement officers rather than surrendering, it puts the lives of all law enforcement officers at risk, in an already tense and escalating environment.
Ramos and Compean will be freed on March 20, by order of President Bush.
Mark that as his final mistake.