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Lou Dobbs Tonight
Special Edition: Border Betrayal
Aired March 27, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we're outside the federal prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi.
We're here tonight to help uncover the truth about the prosecution and the ultimate imprisonment of two former Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean.
Ramos is serving his sentence here. Compean is in a prison in Ohio. This is as close, by the way, as we're allowed to be to this prison in Yazoo City. We wanted to be here for this very important report. Tonight, you're going to meet the man who prosecuted these two agents, the people who defended them, and some of our elected officials who have the decency and courage to overcome what many see as a grievous injustice against these two former Border Patrol agents.
The two men are serving harsh sentences for shooting and wounding an illegal alien drug smuggler from Mexico. That smuggler was given immunity by the U.S. Justice Department in return for his testimony against those agents.
Stay with us for this very special hour, as we look for the answers and examine this very important case, a case that many are calling, straight out, a miscarriage of justice.
ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: "Border Betrayal."
From Yazoo City, Mississippi, Lou Dobbs.
DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.
Tonight, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean are locked up in federal prison. Ramos is in the facility right behind me.
How did these two men, who were doing their jobs on our nation's border, protecting that border, end up behind bars, and an illegal alien drug smuggler end up with immunity for his crimes?
Casey Wian tonight reports on the incident that took these two men from patrolling our border to serving a sentence in federal prison.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Border Patrol agent Ignacio Ramos shows us the Texas road where he first encountered a Mexican drug smuggler two years ago. IGNACIO RAMOS, FORMER BORDER PATROL AGENT: As soon as they passed me here, I just did a U-turn and followed them into town.
WIAN: Ramos and other agents followed his van, which had earlier had tripped a hidden sensor near the border, through the tiny town of Fabens, and then back toward the border.
I. RAMOS: To us, after many years of voting this area, when there's a vehicle away from a sensor and people running back south from that sensor, it usually means -- to us, that usually means that's a narcotics load.
WIAN: Ramos continued to pursue the suspected drug smuggler down this road, past fields, into a canal just a few yards from Mexico.
I. RAMOS: He decided he wasn't going to make it, and he -- he dumped the van right here, but the front of his van went right over the edge of the -- of the canal right there.
WIAN: The suspected smuggler fled into the canal, went up the bank, where Border Patrol agent Jose Compean was positioned.
JOSE COMPEAN, FORMER BORDER PATROL AGENT: It's unlucky for me I was there waiting for him that day.
WIAN: A scuffle ensued. The suspect fled, despite agents' orders to stop.
I. RAMOS: He made a move on agent Compean to get around him. He got around agent Compean. It was at that time that I jumped into the canal to go help agent Compean.
WIAN: Agent Ramos heard shots fired while he was in the canal.
I. RAMOS: I had to run up this area here, get over the levee. And, when I got over on the other side, Agent Compean was on the ground. The suspect was running away from Agent Compean.
WIAN: Ramos said the suspect turned and made a motion as if to fire a gun at him.
I. RAMOS: I had my weapon in my hand. I picked up and fired.
WIAN: The suspect disappeared into the Rio Grande and reemerged on the Mexican side. Both agents say he appeared uninjured.
J. COMPEAN: When there are drugs coming in, there's a -- a load coming through the -- they're not going to stop. Most of the time, they will turn around and head back to the river. And they will go as fast as they can, just to get away.
WIAN: It sounds like a simple story of a drug smuggler escaping. But agents Ramos and Compean are now in federal prison, convicted on a variety of charges, including assault with a firearm, civil rights violations, and obstruction of justice for not reporting their weapons had been fired. T.J. BONNER, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: This is really the most outrageous miscarriage of justice that I'm aware of in my entire 28-year career as a Border Patrol agent. This is like diving into a trash can. The deeper you dig, the more it stinks.
WIAN: That's because the smuggler, whose was carrying 743 pounds of marijuana, was shot once through the side of his buttocks by one of the agents.
U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton gave the smuggler, Osbaldo Aldrete- Davila, immunity from prosecution, in exchange for his testimony against the agents. Aldrete-Davila was encouraged to cooperate by an Arizona Border Patrol agent who grew up with the smuggler in Mexico. The smuggler is suing the U.S. government for $5 million.
And Aldrete-Davila was linked to a second drug load while he was under the protection of federal prosecutors. But it's the agents, not the smuggler, sitting in prison.
I. RAMOS: I was doing the job the public entrusted me to do. They entrusted me to stop a drug smuggler, and I did.
MONICA RAMOS, WIFE OF IGNACIO RAMOS: This fight isn't just for us. It is for all those agents out there, everybody in law enforcement.
J. COMPEAN: It has just been very disappointing. You know, you -- you risk your life out there, did it for five years, and something like this happens, and -- and it's -- it's over.
PATTY COMPEAN, WIFE OF JOSE COMPEAN: I'm angry. I'm sad. I'm appalled, I mean, just all the emotions all at once. I can't believe this is happening. He's never been in trouble, with the Navy, with Border Patrol. I mean, it's just ridiculous.
DOBBS: You will be hearing a lot more from the families, the devastated families, of both Compean and Ramos a little later in this broadcast.
And I will be joined by the man who decided to prosecute these former Border Patrol agents, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton.
Joining me now is one of the agents' strongest supporters. He's T.J. Bonner. He's the president of the National Border Patrol Council. We're joined from El Paso by Luis Barker. Barker was Ramos and Compean's supervisor, the man leading the Border Patrol in the sector, when that incident took place.
I want to say thank you to both men.
Luis, what is your sense of this? I -- I -- I think you believe that -- that justice was carried out here against your two former agents. LUIS BARKER, FORMER BORDER PATROL SECTOR CHIEF: Yes, before I -- I get -- answer that question, I certainly have been listening to -- to the feed through the -- the earpiece.
And I certainly feel for the family and certainly feel for those agents, because, certainly, the penalty is harsh. But, certainly, it's not a miscarriage of justice. I believe justice was served. We are held to -- to higher standards. And the unfortunate thing is -- can you hear me?
DOBBS: Yes, I can hear you.
It's unfortunate that the agents drew this sentence. But, certainly, the system works. These agents crossed the line. They betrayed the trust that's placed in them. And -- and, as a result, they made some terrible choices that day that led to the outcome of this case.
DOBBS: T.J. Bonner, you -- your view is quite different.
BONNER: I could not disagree more with Mr. Barker.
Those agents made the proper choice out there. When someone wheels on you with a gun, I don't care if they're smuggling 743 pounds of marijuana or 743 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. If they wheel on a law enforcement officer with a gun, and try to kill that law enforcement officer, that law enforcement officer is justified in defending himself.
BARKER: And that is -- and that...
DOBBS: Luis Barker...
BARKER: And that certainly is -- yes. And that certainly is exactly true.
DOBBS: Go ahead.
BARKER: But, in this case, it has not been established that that agent -- that the -- that the drug smuggler was armed.
The agents can only use their gun under the circumstances that Mr. Bonner talks about. I had an opportunity to talk with these agents up until -- up at least a month after this -- at least one of the agents a month after, and there was no mention about a gun.
If, in fact, there was a gun, that would have been mentioned when the other agents reported to the scene. This came out after the fact.
BONNER: That's simply not true, Chief Barker. They did mention, in the response to you, that they're -- that the smuggler had a gun.
And they -- their actions were proper. I understand you're upset that they did not report the shooting, but that is not a crime. (CROSSTALK)
BARKER: I have a copy...
DOBBS: All right.
BARKER: I have a copy of the report. And there was no mention of a gun. No gun was ever mentioned in this case.
If, in fact, this was a legitimate shoot, they would have reported it. The evidence -- or the facts are clear. This -- there have been at least 20 assaults here where agents have defended themselves, and in every -- resulting in three fatalities. And, in every instance...
DOBBS: Chief Barker, I have to say -- I have to say to you, everything you're saying, it's -- it's remarkable to me, if I may just say, to hear a former Border Patrol chief saying these are facts, when what we have is a finding by a jury of contested facts between an illegal alien, Mexican drug smuggler, and two U.S. Border Patrol agents who work for you.
DOBBS: Why do you give such credence to a -- if I may, do you give such credence to a drug smuggler?
BARKER: The -- the issue is not giving credence to a drug smuggler. We have to look at the facts of the case.
We are -- we who are in these positions must make decisions based on the facts. The long and short of it is, we have had a number of shootings here. And the agents understand what their responsibilities are when a shooting does occur.
This would have been a clear-cut -- this situation would have been clear-cut if this had been reported, if an investigation had run its course. Again, we have had a number of shootings. These agents defend themselves. I know they will continue to do that.
DOBBS: All right.
BARKER: And, if, in fact, this had been the case on that day, we probably would not be talking about this case. But they did not follow protocol. There was no evidence that this person was armed. The person was running away from them. There was no reason for them to shoot a person who is running, no matter -- no matter how you feel about...
DOBBS: T.J. Bonner, you get the -- you -- you get the last word.
BONNER: Nothing would have changed. Had they reported it according to protocol, the smuggler still would have gotten away into Mexico, taking the gun with him.
Two weeks later, he would have shown up at the Mexico -- at the American Consulate in Mexico, complaining about being shot by the agents. They would have launched an investigation. And Chief Barker and Johnny Sutton, the prosecutor, would still have believed the drug smuggler over the two agents. I find that appalling.
BARKER: T.J., you know that's not -- that's not true.
DOBBS: Chief -- Chief Barker...
BARKER: That is not -- that is absolutely not true.
You look at the record, and you will see that, in instances when agents have defended themselves...
BONNER: I have -- I have studied the record. And it is true.
BARKER: The agency -- the agency has protected these agents. They have always given agents the benefit of the doubt, even when it is not clear-cut. These agents did not give the agency an opportunity to give them the benefit of the doubt.
DOBBS: T.J., you get the last word.
BONNER: It speaks -- look over my shoulder. Look where these agents are. They did not give these agents the benefit of the doubt. They went after these agents with the full force and fury of the federal government. And it is a travesty.
DOBBS: T.J. Bonner, thank you very much for being here.
Luis Barker, thank you very much for joining us.
BARKER: You're welcome. Thanks.
DOBBS: Coming up next: two our elected officials who have the courage to stand up and to speak out for these two former Border Patrol agents among nearly 100 in Congress doing so, one of these congressmen defying President Bush, the leader of his own party. He says impeachment talk may be in order in this case.
And later: families torn apart. I will talk with the former agents' wives about what this case has done to them, their families, their children.
Stay with us, as our prime-time special report, "Border Betrayal," continues from Yazoo City, Mississippi.
DOBBS: Welcome back to our prime-time special report, "Border Betrayal." We're coming to you tonight from outside the federal prison here in Yazoo City, Mississippi, where we're trying to uncover the truth, to get the answers behind why the prosecution of these two former Border Patrol agents was ever put into motion.
The men received harsh sentences for shooting and wounding an illegal alien drug smuggler from Mexico. The drug runner was given immunity by federal prosecutors, in order for him to testify against two U.S. Border Patrol agents. Ramos is now serving a sentence here at the prison. Compean is in a prison in Ohio, where he's serving 12 years.
Joining me now, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who has been among those leading the effort for a pardon from President Bush. And also with us, Congressman Ted Poe, a former prosecutor himself, a judge who knows this case inside and out.
Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.
REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: Thank you, Lou.
DOBBS: Let me -- let me ask -- let me ask you first, Congressman Rohrabacher, where do you think your efforts stand to -- to move ahead with a pardon? Is there any sign that the White House is even remotely sensitive to the issue and is willing to reconsider the direction of one of its departments?
REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: One of the most disturbing aspects of this case has been the reaction to the White House and the reaction from President Bush to those people who have been basically begging for mercy for these two men, and begging for justice, in a case that should never have been brought.
And the president, the more that we have asked for a pardon, the more we have challenged the prosecutors in this case, the more he's dug his heels in, and the more vengeful and merciless the prosecution has become. They haven't even -- of course, we asked, just let them go out on bond during appeal, because we know their lives are at risk. And the White House answered that by, the next day, going to the judge, saying: We demand that they stay in prison.
So, it's a sort of a -- it's a very mean-spirited thing. I don't think, unless the American people rise up with righteous anger, that the White House will listen.
DOBBS: Congressman Poe, Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner recently said -- as, frankly, I have accused him, and certainly members of Congress have accused him, of outright lying, when he said that these agents, Ramos and Compean, were out to shoot Mexicans. That's what he said. He says that wasn't a lie; it was a misstatement by his people.
How do you react?
POE: Well, we met with his people. And they told us that Ramos and Compean were rogue cops, and that they went out that day to shoot Mexican nationals.
We asked for the documents in September. They never produced them. And the reason: They don't exist. And, after the truth came out, we read the transcript, you can call it a misstatement. You can call it a misunderstanding, but it was not the truth, all the allegations that Inspector General Skinner was making about these two peace officers.
DOBBS: Congressman Rohrabacher, you have been looking into this case. What are your thoughts tonight, as a result of your investigation...
DOBBS: ... point?
ROHRABACHER: Well -- well, there's -- there's a lot of lies that have been told about this case.
I mean, for example the fellow you just had on, who was saying, well, the gun wasn't mentioned, he -- that was translated by him to say that there wasn't a gun there. Now, we know that Ramos and Compean have consistently said the man turned and aimed something at them.
Judge Poe was in that meeting. And another lie that they told Judge Poe in that meeting was that Ramos and Compean had not claimed that they were in danger, because that -- there was no gun involved.
Well, this is ridiculous. We have had -- you are going to have Johnny Sutton on. Ask him why they called them corrupt. Why -- why were these agents called corrupt? There's been no charges of corruption.
These men have been vilified. Their -- their government has betrayed them, at a time when they're trying to do their job by stopping this drug enforcement officer -- or -- excuse me -- this drug smuggler. So, it's -- it's mind-boggling, that -- that -- that reality has been turned on its head this way. But I -- frankly, I think the American people have got some serious questions to ask.
ROHRABACHER: I'm so happy you're going to have Mr. Sutton on. Ask him why he called these guys corrupt in public, why they have been claimed -- why there was a claim that they were going to go out and shoot Mexicans, and that there was a claim that they didn't have a gun, or that the -- the -- the fellow didn't have a gun aiming at them.
ROHRABACHER: ... these are all lies that were put out.
DOBBS: Congressman Poe, you -- you have been a judge. You have been a prosecutor.
What's your -- you know Johnny Sutton...
POE: I do know Johnny Sutton.
DOBBS: ... the U.S. attorney who will be on this broadcast later tonight.
What in the world -- what do you think?
POE: Well, I think the government had to choose in this case. They had to choose between prosecuting a drug smuggler bringing in $1 million worth of drugs or prosecuting two border agents that didn't, as Chief Barker said, follow protocol and fill out certain forms.
And the federal government chose poorly. They chose to prosecute the border protectors, instead of prosecuting the drug smuggler. And now we have -- we have learned that the drug smuggler apparently brought in another load of drugs after he was given that first immunity, and the jury never heard about that second load of drugs, also worth about $1 million.
So, the government was on the wrong side of the border war. They had a choice. They chose the drug smuggler over our individuals.
ROHRABACHER: Lou, don't let Johnny Sutton tell you that he didn't have a choice.
At that point, the judge -- as the judge just stated, he could have chosen to give immunity for, what, lack of protocol on the part of the Border Patrol agents, and then thrown the book at the drug smuggler.
ROHRABACHER: But he didn't do that. It was the opposite.
He gave immunity to the drug smuggler, and threw the book, turning what was maybe be a misdemeanor -- maybe -- probably just an infraction of a procedure, turning that into a felony, and leaving that man in prison right behind you.
DOBBS: Congressman Poe, I want to give you the last word here.
Do you have hope that we're going to see significant hearings into this case on Capitol Hill?
POE: I do.
We have asked the chairman of the Judiciary and the Homeland Security committees to hold congressional hearings about why our government was so relentless in prosecuting these two border agents.
POE: And we hope that we will have those hearings and air it out for the American public to hear the truth of the whole matter, under oath.
DOBBS: Congressman Poe, Congressman Rohrabacher, we thank you both for being here.
And, as we just mentioned, the man who carried out this prosecution, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, is joining us here tonight later in the broadcast. We're going to ask him those questions and a lot more.
We would like you to weigh in on this issue tonight in our poll. The question is: Do you believe there should be a full congressional hearing into the prosecution of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, yes or no? Please vote at LouDobbs.com. We will have the results at the end of this broadcast.
Coming up next: Their husband is paying a very heavy price for doing their jobs on our border with Mexico. I will be talking with the Border Patrol agents' wives. I will be talking to them about how they and their families are dealing with these sentences.
And, later, as I mentioned, I will be taking on Johnny Sutton, who went after Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos, and who Congressman Ted Poe says made the wrong decision. That's coming up.
Stay with us, as our special report, "Border Betrayal," continues from Yazoo City, Mississippi.
DOBBS: Welcome back.
We're reporting from outside the federal prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi.
Tonight, former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean are locked up. Ramos is in the facility behind me. Compean is in prison in Ohio. Their prosecution, their conviction and imprisonment has, of course, devastated their families, their wives left without husbands, their children without fathers.
Joining me now is Monica Ramos, Ignacio Ramos' wife, and Patty Compean, Jose Compean's wife, Patty joining us tonight from El Paso.
Monica, let me begin.
You are going to be with your husband tomorrow. You are going to visit him.
How do you feel at this point? You have listened to two U.S. congressmen, their former boss, the chief of the sector in El Paso, T.J. Bonner, the head of the Border Patrol, talk about this case, and obviously emotional and obviously completely different views of the facts, or what pass for facts.
What's your reaction?
M. RAMOS: It's very disheartening to hear Mr. Barker speak as he has against these agents.
My husband dedicated 10 years of his service to the Border Patrol. And, for Luis Barker to adamantly protect a known and admitted drug smuggler, and to back up Johnny Sutton's statements, it's just disheartening. I don't understand how he wore a badge for our Border Patrol.
DOBBS: Patty, the same question.
P. COMPEAN: Luis Barker, hmm. Yes, I mean, that's what they have been saying from the beginning, you know?
And to say that there was no gun, that the supervisor didn't know about it, it is outrageous. It is in the testimony. It is in the transcripts. They -- there were supervisors on scene. I don't know where he's getting his information, but it's obviously, you know, not reading what or hearing what the rest of us are. It's really frustrating.
DOBBS: Patty, let me ask you, how are your -- your children, Jose's children? How are they holding up?
P. COMPEAN: The 12-year-old, we can talk about things. So, she's -- she's hanging in there. You know, she has her tough times.
The middle child, that's differently. The middle child was used to being -- being around daddy for the first two years of his life. He's going to be 3 on Thursday. He's not going to have daddy there for his birthday. And he's taking it really, really, really hard.
I mean, he -- he wakes up in the middle of the night crying and asking for daddy: "Daddy, where are you? Don't leave me."
He gets upset when I leave. I mean, we had to distract him in order for me to be here. And I'm hoping he's OK. He's just taking it very harsh. And, luckily, the baby -- hopefully, the baby will not remember this. Hopefully, he will be out to -- in time to where the baby doesn't have to experience any of these horrible and, you know, just bad situations, which are traumatizing.
DOBBS: Monica, your children?
M. RAMOS: My children are taking it very differently.
I have my 14-year-old, who just spent his first birthday away from his father. So, that was very hard on him, going into his teenage years. He looks for guidance from his father.
I have my 9-year-old, who -- and my 7-year-old. We -- we just try and live life as normal as possible. We continue with the sports. My husband was a little league coach with my -- for my son's team. And we just try and -- and go as normal as possible.
But I can't fill that void in their lives right now. It's...
M. RAMOS: It's a great -- great void. The absence is just overwhelming.
DOBBS: It has to be.
As you have gone through this ordeal, do you have more hope tonight than when it began that -- that justice could be served?
M. RAMOS: I definitely do.
You know, we never thought we would end up at the point that we're at. We never imagined that it would -- that he would be here; he would be right behind me.
DOBBS: Patty, how do you feel?
P. COMPEAN: Yes.
DOBBS: Do you feel more hopeful today...
P. COMPEAN: Yes, I do.
DOBBS: ... or less?
P. COMPEAN: Actually, every day, every day, every day, you know, there's -- just about when about to give up, something happens; something's on the news; something's in the newspaper; there's a word from Congress.
You know, there's always something to give us a little shot of -- of hope and light. And this is just one of them. You know, this is big, I think. Thank you.
DOBBS: And I know that all of the support, the letters and the e-mails and the phone calls from all around the country, have -- have been important support for you. And I -- I know how tough this is for you. And I know how important your role is as mothers of these children, and supporting your husbands, and taking care of your family.
You know, obviously, I salute you and respect greatly your courage, both of you.
Patty, thank you very much.
Monica, thank you.
M. RAMOS: Thank you.
P. COMPEAN: Thank you.
DOBBS: Coming up next: Two men sworn to uphold the law, they're now behind bars. We will find out how these two men ended up in prison.
And I will be talking with a man who put them there, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton.
Stay with us.
DOBBS: Welcome back. Tonight former Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean are behind bars. Ramos is in the prison right behind us. The two agents were prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton. Sutton's prosecution of the two agents, while granting immunity to the drug smuggler that they wounded, has been widely criticized.
Did Ramos and Compean receive a fair trial? Many, if not most, believe they didn't. Casey Wian reports on that trial and the jury that heard the evidence and convicted them.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She was the last holdout on the jury that convicted Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean of violating a Mexican drug smuggler's civil rights, assault and obstruction of justice. She doesn't want us to show her face or use her name, but she does want the public to know she doesn't believe they're guilty as charged.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember being in the jury room talking with the other jury members, crying. I remember when the verdict was read. I felt like I was going to go through the floor.
WIAN (on camera): Why were you crying?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think because I felt like I had made a decision and it was probably a wrong decision, but I had to make a decision.
WIAN (voice-over): Agents Ramos and Compean also had decisions to make during their pursuit of a Mexican drug smuggler driving a van loaded with 743 pounds of marijuana. The smuggler got out of the vehicle, ignored the agents' orders to stop. And they thought he had a gun so they fired. One shot hit Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila in the buttocks.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe them, I believe that they felt danger at the time and that they had a split second decision that they had to make and that they felt endangered, their lives were endangered. And I felt that they had to do what they had to do, they'd been trained to do that.
WIAN: The juror says she felt pressure to change her vote to guilty because of an early agreement the jury made to reach a verdict no matter what.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had been there two weeks. Felt like there was a lot of time invested into the trial and it was going to be my fault if it was a mistrial or a hung jury.
WIAN: Compean's attorney still struggles to understand the verdict.
MARIA RAMIREZ, ATTORNEY FOR JOSE COMPEAN: I really believe that the evidence showed that Mr. Compean and Mr. Ramos were two Border Patrol agents doing their job, who had the right to carry a firearm and had the right to protect the border, and who had the right to detain this drug smuggler.
I can't believe that a jury would convict my client of that offense of assault, assault with a weapon, a civil rights violation, and I can't imagine what went wrong at the trial.
WIAN: What went wrong, supporters of the agents say, is prosecutors succeeded in keeping key exculpatory information from the jury. For example, the drug smuggler was tied to a second smuggled marijuana load while he was under the protection of the U.S. federal government. And jurors were barred from hearing testimony about drug cartel violence on the border.
JOHNNY SUTTON, U.S. ATTORNEY: Some in the media have suggested that Agent Compean and Agent Ramos should get medals for shooting this drug suspect. I disagree. I think that this jury did exactly the right thing by holding these two agents accountable for what they did.
The United States of America is a country where the rule of law applies. It applies to all citizens. It applies to police officers.
WIAN: But apparently not to drug smugglers.
SUTTON: I feel no sympathy for this alien. I feel that he deserves to be in prison. If we ever find him again smuggling drugs into this country, we'll happily put him there.
T.J. BONNER, PRES., NATL. BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: They had him in custody. He was in a federal courtroom and it would have been a very simple matter to have one of the U.S. Marshals put the cuffs on him and lead him out, charge him with those offenses, and they failed to do that.
WIAN: Federal Judge Kathleen Cardone sentenced Ramos and Compean to 11 and 12 years in prison, respectively. Ten years of that was a mandatory sentence for using a gun to commit a crime.
MARY STILLINGER, ATTORNEY FOR IGNACIO RAMOS: It is a draconian punishment to blindly assess a 10-year punishment to somebody like that. I hope that Congress would consider amending that statute.
WIAN: Congress is considering that, and more than 90 members are sponsoring legislation to pardon Ramos and Compean. In the meantime, the agents remain in prison while their convictions are appealed. (END VIDEOTAPE)
DOBBS: We'll hear more from U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, the man who prosecuted Ramos and Compean, later in this broadcast. In fact, we're going to give him the final word here tonight.
Joining me now from El Paso, Texas, is Mary Stillinger. She's the attorney for Ignacio Ramos. And Chris Antcliff, attorney for Jose Compean. And also joining us tonight from Dallas is Bob Baskett, the attorney who is now handling the appeal for Mr. Compean. Thank you all for being here.
Let me start out, if I may, by just a straightforward question. Mary, controverted facts, a drug smuggler given immunity, prosecution against two Border Patrol agents, they're brought to trial. What went wrong, from your perspective?
STILLINGER: Well I think some bad decisions were made at the very beginning of this case. The way the government chose to initiate this prosecution is really the most shocking part about this. These two men were arrested and charged with attempted murder based on what the drug smuggler told the agents -- the investigating agents.
The investigation was done after the fact. But the government started out with a very aggressive approach in this case. They didn't take it as an administrative violation or a bad shoot. They took it as an attempted murder.
DOBBS: Why do you think...
STILLINGER: Why do I think they did that? I don't know. That's the million dollar question. I don't know why that happened. I just know that once it started they couldn't stop.
DOBBS: As a trial attorney, let me ask you this.
DOBBS: As a trial attorney let me ask you this. Why did that jury believe a drug smuggler instead of two sworn officers of the United States government?
STILLINGER: I'll tell you a couple of things. One, I'd like to point out, I don't think all of the jurors did. I think there was a split among the jurors. I think you just had had one of the jurors on. There were three of the jurors who submitted sworn affidavits saying that they thought that they were not guilty. They were misled by information given to them that caused them to vote guilty ultimately. That's one thing. But also another...
DOBBS: And we've reported that.
STILLINGER: Right. And another very important thing is that the jury didn't get all of the facts. You know, one of the fundamental...
DOBBS: Like what? STILLINGER: Well, you know, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, the drug smuggler, was only required to talk about what happened on February the 17th, 2005. He was not required to answer any questions about what happened before that date or questions about what happened after that date. And that's an extraordinary situation. One of the fundamental parts...
DOBBS: Let me turn to...
STILLINGER: ... of a fair trial -- no, go ahead, go ahead.
DOBBS: Yes. Let me turn to Chris Antcliff and ask, is there at this point anything that you would have done differently in this case in representing your client?
CHRIS ANTCLIFF, ATTORNEY FOR JOSE COMPEAN: I think that there wasn't anything I would do differently in representing Mr. Compean during the course of this trial. I know that Mary Stillinger and I and Maria Ramirez and Steve Peters did absolutely everything that we could.
I agree with Mary that the problems with this case began at its inception when the government decided to charge attempted murder off the bat rather than administratively looking at whatever happened that day. When they decided to take such an aggressive stance...
DOBBS: You have heard Luis Barker, the former chief of that Border Patrol sector, and T.J. Bonner and others, and others, argue about the facts...
ANTCLIFF: I have.
DOBBS: ... as to whether Compean and Ramos said and testified that they had suspected -- or saw, rather, what they thought to be a gun in the possession of the drug smuggler. Luis Barker says it's incontrovertible that that was after the fact and that that is not what they believed initially. Does that...
ANTCLIFF: He's mistaken.
DOBBS: Give us the record.
ANTCLIFF: That's all I can say is that he's mistaken. The record and the trial testimony established that there was -- Mr. Aldrete-Davila, the drug runner, was pointing something that they believed to be a weapon back at them when both fired. They both saw that happen. They stood by that statement.
DOBBS: Right. Let me turn now, if I may, to Bob Baskett. How hopeful are you? What's your professional judgment, with all that we've got, three attorneys -- I mean, three jurors with sworn statements thinking that they were misled in their -- in delivering that verdict. What is the likelihood of winning on appeal in your judgment?
BOB BASKETT, APPEAL ATTY. FOR JOSE COMPEAN: Well, appeals are very difficult because of the manner in which they're handled. The burden becomes basically one on the appellant to demonstrate a harmful error.
We're working hard to find those errors. I think the situation with the jury, if I'm not mistaken, maybe Chris can tell me, didn't you have a hearing about some juror telling the others that they could not have a hung jury, they had to reach a verdict?
ANTCLIFF: Unfortunately, we never did have a hearing. Those facts did come out, that the jurors believed that, but we never did get a hearing on that issue.
BASKETT: Well, that's an issue.
DOBBS: I want to say thank you to all. We're getting -- yes, and Bob Baskett, we thank you very much, Mary Stillinger, we thank you very much.
STILLINGER: Thank you.
BASKETT: Thank you.
DOBBS: And Chris Antcliff, thank you and good luck.
ANTCLIFF: Thank you.
DOBBS: A reminder now. We're asking you to vote in our poll tonight. Do you believe there should be a full congressional hearing into the prosecution of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean? Yes or no. Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have those results later here in the broadcast.
Up next, I'll be talking one on one with the man who brought these Border Patrol agents to trial, who ultimately sent them to prison and who gave immunity to the drug smuggler who testified against them. U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton joins me here next. Stay with us.
DOBBS: Welcome back. We're outside the federal prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Tonight, former Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean are behind bars. Ramos in the prison right behind us.
And joining me now is the man at the center of the case, the federal prosecutor who decided to put Ramos and Compean behind bars. I'm joined now by U.S. attorney Johnny Sutton. Good to have you with us.
JOHNNY SUTTON, U.S. ATTORNEY: Hey, Lou, thanks for having me on.
DOBBS: I, as you know, disagree with your decision to prosecute this case about as vigorously as anyone could.
SUTTON: I've heard you. DOBBS: But I want to give you credit and respect for having the wherewithal to stand here and put yourself before the public as we examine this case. And I mean that sincerely.
Now, as we turn to the case itself, why did you decide that an illegal alien drug smuggler from Mexico was more credible than two U.S. sworn agents of the federal government?
SUTTON: First of all, thank you so much for allowing me this chance to get the information out. There's been so much misinformation about this case. Frankly, I don't blame people for being upset if I thought that two American heroes were going to prison for doing their job and a drug smuggler was going free, I'd be hacked off as well. But those are not the facts in this case.
This was a two-and-a-half-week jury trial, a West Texas jury that's not inclined to convict police officers easily. And they convicted these guys of a number of violent crimes. And the reason they did is because they were guilty.
The information in this case has been distorted in so many ways, but what really happened was these two guys shot at an unarmed guy who was running away from them. Instead of reporting it, they covered it up, they destroyed evidence, and filed a false report.
We can't do that. That's against the law and that's a big problem.
DOBBS: That's a big problem of many big problems in this case. One of the problems with what you just said is the facts are controverted. That is, whether or not that drug smuggler was armed or not armed.
DOBBS: Secondly, both agents say that they thought he did have a weapon. I find it astonishing that Chief Barker says that they did not say that. The attorneys controvert him as well.
But the idea of making a decision to prosecute this case and to have the Department of Homeland Security, not the Federal Bureau of Investigation, initiate the investigation is peculiar. Why was that decision taken? Why was that the origin of the case?
SUTTON: Well, because originally in homeland security, the inspector general's office of that office -- of that agency was the first agency to start investigating. The FBI was notified. They said, you've got a good agent on the case, let him go forward.
But I think we need to get back to the drug smuggler...
DOBBS: But we also need to be clear. The FBI was not investigating this case.
SUTTON: That's right. They originally were given a heads-up about the case. They realized there was a good agent on it, and they said, you go with it, you investigate it.
DOBBS: So this case began with what? With a complaint from the Mexican consulate?
SUTTON: Well, and that's the great irony. I mean, had these agents been American heroes, when they shot at somebody, they would have explained it, and they would have explained why they shot. But instead of explaining, they covered it up.
DOBBS: Do you think they knew that they'd hit?
SUTTON: Of course they knew. In fact, Agent Compean wrote in a handwritten statement that they had hit him. He said, "Nacho fired the last shot. I think we hit him because he started limping, and he went into the river and walked slowly out." I mean, Compean says that in his own handwriting. So they knew that they hit him at the scene, and instead of reporting it, like every other agent would have done and explain why they used deadly force, they covered it up. They destroyed the evidence and filed a false report.
And I don't think once people in America find out the facts, they're going to say, oh, that's just fine, we want agents like that on the line. And we don't.
DOBBS: I'm not so sure that we don't want agents like Ramos and Compean on the line. What I think is sort of interesting here is a decision that has made in basically in Washington, D.C. to prosecute this case. It wasn't made...
SUTTON: That's not true. These...
DOBBS: The Mexican consulate contacted whom?
SUTTON: The Mexican consulate wrote the standard letter that they always write in these kind of cases.
DOBBS: You're sure it was a standard letter?
SUTTON: These cases -- well, I don't know. The letter was sent to Homeland Security. But I can tell you that this case originated like any other case that we try in El Paso.
We try 5,000 felonies in our district. We lead the nation in drug prosecutions. We prosecute these smugglers every day. That's what we do every day. And all Agent Compean had to do was put the handcuffs on Aldrete, and that guy would be sitting in prison...
DOBBS: That's what he was trying to do, wasn't he?
SUTTON: No, it wasn't what he was trying to do. What the jury heard is that Agent Compean, instead of arresting a guy whose hands are in the air -- everybody agrees he had no weapon, he was -- hands were in the air. And instead of putting the handcuffs on him, he decides to hit him in the head with a shotgun. He does a prat fall into the ditch. And now the smuggler is free to take off running, which he does. And then they open fire on him with 15 shots. And instead of explaining why they did it, instead of explaining why they used deadly force, they covered it up, they lied about it, and they filed a false report. That is a huge problem.
DOBBS: With how many Border Patrol agents present?
SUTTON: At the time of the shooting, there was three Border Patrol agents present.
DOBBS: In total within a matter of minutes.
SUTTON; There were three there. Agent Vasquez comes up later. He helps (inaudible)...
DOBBS: Total of nine agents, with two supervisors, with radio traffic, correct?
SUTTON: That's another huge part of misinformation is...
DOBBS: Well, it's not...
SUTTON: That's why we have jury trials, Lou. We try this in a jury. And West Texas juries do not convict agents on a whim. I mean, they'd give these guys the benefit of the doubt.
DOBBS: I don't know, how many juries do you have come back with three jurors telling you that they were misled by the foreman?
SUTTON: Well, let me just tell you that it is not unusual for jurors after the fact, after they realized they've had...
DOBBS: I kind of want to watch out for West Texas.
SUTTON: Well, what they do -- these are hard decisions for jurors. This is a hard case.
DOBBS: Well, it wasn't a hard decision for you to decide to take the word of an illegal alien drug smuggler and give him immunity.
SUTTON: Well, that's...
SUTTON: ... was overwhelmingly strong. And once these agents commit a number of felonies, once they shoot at an unarmed guy running away, and instead of explaining why they used deadly force, once they do that, the case is destroyed. There's no case and there's no evidence.
DOBBS: Why is it that you said that this drug smuggler had not been involved in any other subsequent drug cases?
SUTTON: No one said that. I mean, that's another great irony of this, is there's the alleged October load. And the evidence was suppressed.
All that evidence regarding the alleged October load was presented to the court. The court made a ruling on whether that was admissible. The court said it's not admissible. It's put under seal. Why?
DOBBS: That was your recommendation.
SUTTON: Because it's an ongoing investigation. We're still trying to arrest bad guys out of that thing.
DOBBS: You're trying to arrest bad guys. You had a bad guy in your grip.
DOBBS: And you said, you said at one point that you had to give him immunity to get his testimony.
DOBBS: This is a drug smuggler working for a cartel. You know what cartel he is working for?
SUTTON: Absolutely -- no, I don't know what cartel. We work against the cartels every day. I mean, that's my business, is to take down...
DOBBS: I understand. What cartel?
SUTTON: ... the cartels.
DOBBS: You gave the man limited use immunity six days after you began talking to him.
SUTTON: Remember -- and that's why it is so important that the American people get the facts on this. This shooting goes down. Our agents shoot 15 times at an unarmed guy, they cover up, they lie, they file false reports. We wouldn't even know about this case had not we got information from another Border Patrol agent that got information from the family.
DOBBS: We're going to have to be real quick. We'll be right back. We'll have more from U.S. attorney Johnny Sutton. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
DOBBS: Welcome back. I'm here again with U.S. attorney Johnny Sutton.
Mr. Sutton, the idea that almost 100 congressmen now have signed the petition seeking a pardon for the men you prosecuted, how do you react to that?
SUTTON: Well, I can't talk about politicians or what's in their head. I mean, a lot of -- there's been so much information that, you know, I hope that they don't know the facts.
But the real facts are -- I mean, this is what's so important to get to the American people, is that if these guys, if that smuggler had actually pointed a gun, there was no reason in the world why those two agents shouldn't say, hey, he just pointed a gun at me, we shot at him 15 times. There's no reason for a cover-up. That is evidence that nobody in America has heard until probably tonight. And that's what the jury heard and that's why they came back with their verdict.
DOBBS: What is the Border Patrol -- what is the Border Patrol administration punishment for firing a weapon and not reporting it?
SUTTON: I have no idea. But that's another -- this is not about administrative. This is about violent crimes.
DOBBS: Why did you file charges for attempted murder? Why in the world did you go after attempted murder on this case?
SUTTON: Because they are trying to kill a guy. They said they were...
DOBBS: Based on the testimony of an illegal alien drug smuggler.
SUTTON: No, based on the testimony of all the people at the scene. Remember, everything that Aldrete says is confirmed and corroborated. All the agents -- remember, these two agents testified. The jury, they looked them in the eye, and they said, are they telling us the truth, Lou? I mean, what are these -- I mean, this is a big deal. The jury said, they're not credible. That whole story about the gun is made up. They created that later. That wasn't until a month later that that story even appears. They have a long cover-up is going on. Until the agents are confronted, we never hear about that gun.
DOBBS: I've seen a written statement in which -- in which Compean says he thought he had a weapon.
SUTTON: Right. That's not until a month later. At the time when Compean is picking up the shells with Vasquez...
DOBBS: That's the only point in which...
SUTTON: Here's what he tells his co-conspirator. He says...
DOBBS: Well, let's talk about the timeline.
SUTTON: ... he doesn't say, they pointed a gun at me. He says, that guy threw dirt in my face. That's what he says.
DOBBS: Let me ask you this...
SUTTON: They left their buddy standing on the levee. If they...
DOBBS: ... did you get orders from Washington, D.C. to prosecute this case?
SUTTON: Absolutely not. This case...
DOBBS: Did you in point of fact ask for the FBI to investigate it?
SUTTON: No, I mean the FBI...
DOBBS: Why not?
SUTTON: These are standard procedures. The FBI was notified. OIG was notified...
DOBBS: They're notified.
SUTTON: They decided who -- who...
DOBBS: The inspector general is caught point blank lying to Congress about this case. Where did they get the idea that these agents were dirty?
SUTTON: Six months after the trial, there's a briefing in Washington that...
DOBBS: No, no, no.
SUTTON: Yes, yes, yes.
DOBBS: No, no.
SUTTON: Six months after the trial, there's a briefing. I can't tell what some bureaucrats say in Washington. That didn't affect the jury. The jury already...
DOBBS: You're doing what they tell you to do because the OIG led the investigation instead of the FBI. And now you're calling them bureaucrats?
SUTTON: What these guys...
DOBBS: I agree with you, but...
SUTTON: They're talking about a case that they had nothing with. The jury had already convicted these guys before these congressmen got their hearing. But of course, out there in the world, that's a big -- that's a big conspiracy.
DOBBS: If you had it to do over tonight, would you still go after these two men?
SUTTON: Absolutely. In America, the cops are the good guys.
DOBBS: Would you have given the drug smuggler limited use immunity and not ask him what cartel he's working for, what safehouse he was going for, what his operation was? Would you not have prosecuted him? SUTTON: When cops step over the line and commit serious crimes -- when they shoot at unarmed people who are running away, when they lie, they cover it up and file false reports, and then they make up...
DOBBS: What about the drug cartels?
SUTTON: ... they make up stories -- the jury (inaudible) -- remember, this is a West Texas jury.
DOBBS: We got that established.
SUTTON: They love Border Patrol. That's why these guys went to trial. They knew they were facing 10-year minimum stacked on top of whatever else they had, so they knew that they were rolling the dice when they did that.
DOBBS: Let me ask you finally...
DOBBS: Your prosecutor, Debra Kanof, said this in her closing statements. "It has deteriorated so much that these two agents on the border, they're calling people of their same ethnic background Mexican bleeps." Family members of the agents were offended deeply. I think you had to be offended that your prosecutor would inject race into this trial.
SUTTON: What I can say is that we day in and day out are on the front lines of the drug war. We've tried more drug cases than anyone else in the country. We're second in immigration. We're aggressive, and we back up Border Patrol. But when they step over the line...
DOBBS: Johnny Sutton, I promised you, you would get the last word. You just got it.
SUTTON: Thank you.
DOBBS: We're out of time.
SUTTON: Thanks for having me.
DOBBS: Thank you very much.
Still ahead, what you have to say about Ramos and Compean, and this case, and its prosecution. Stay with us.
DOBBS: Thank you for being with us tonight. The results of our poll tonight: 98 percent of you say there should be a full congressional investigation of the prosecution of former Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean.
We thank you for being with us tonight. Please join us tomorrow. We'll be live in Washington, D.C. For all of us here, thanks for watching. Good night from Yazoo City, Mississippi. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts now.
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