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February 8, 2007 - Associated Press (US)

Report Concludes Convicted Agents Lied, Covered Up Shooting

By Alicia A. Caldwell and Suzanne Gamboa, Associated Press

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

EL PASO, Texas -- A federal report released Wednesday on the shooting of a suspected drug smuggler by Border Patrol agents concurs with prosecutors that the men committed obstruction of justice by failing to report the shooting, destroying evidence and lying to investigators. Conservative members of Congress have criticized the case against the former agents, who were fired after their convictions, saying the men were doing their job when they injured Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila in 2005 near El Paso.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security report on the investigation was drafted in 2006 after Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean were convicted and each was sentenced to more than a decade in federal prison. The 77-page report was made public Wednesday and offered few if any new details on the case.

The report, which is heavily redacted of names and some specific details, primarily outlines what Aldrete said happened on Feb. 17, 2005, as he tried to run from Border Patrol agents after trying to elude them in a van loaded with marijuana.

According to the report, Aldrete, who was given immunity and has filed a multimillion dollar claim against the federal government, told investigators he was unarmed and shot as he ran away from Compean and other agents. He said he tried to surrender and ran again after Compean slipped while trying to hit him with the butt of a shotgun.

The report also notes that other agents on the scene that day could not confirm whether Aldrete was armed and initially lied about whether they were aware of the shooting. They later cooperated with authorities. Those agents, whose names were removed from the report, were not prosecuted.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, whose office prosecuted the case and who has been widely criticized for pursing the agents and not the drug dealer shot, declined to comment.

Lawyers for Ramos and Compean did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said the report only bolsters the congressman's support of the agents.

"The OIG report has just emboldened our position because there is nothing in there that indicates these agents were not justified in shooting this individual," said Tara Setmayer. "This finally sheds some light on what these agents were thinking."

She pointed to Compean's written statement which she said reflects that he "clearly believed the drug smuggler had a weapon and feared for his life."

Two Texas congressmen said the office of inspector general for Homeland Security told them the report would say that the agets planned to "go out and shoot Mexicans" on that day.

"The congressman is absolutely unequivocally not happy about the fact that what he was told was in the report, is not in the report," said Jack Hirschfield, a spokesman for Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican.

"So far it looks to me like Agents Ramos and Compean may not have followed proper procedure following the shooting, which at most should have resulted in their suspension from the force, but not criminal procedure," Rep. John Culberson, D-Houston, said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., also asked Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to pursue a Senate probe of the prosecution and sentencing.

Rohrabacher and others also criticized President Bush Wednesday for not pardoning the agents.

Ramos and Compean were sentenced in October and reported to prison in January. Reports were released Tuesday that Ramos was attacked in prison in Mississippi on Saturday night after the airing of an episode of America's Most Wanted that highlighted his case.

Compean is jailed at a federal prison in Northern Ohio.

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