IN THE PIPELINE:Don’t punish sacrifices

So in this day and age of fierce Republican-Democrat fighting, who is spearheading the issue that just may pull all sides together in a spirited battle of true right and wrong? Huntington Beach’s own Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.

As you may have read, Rohrabacher has become passionately involved in a battle to free border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, both serving more than 10-year prison sentences after being convicted for shooting a fleeing drug dealer at the Mexican border.

I’ve been impressed with Rohrabacher’s efforts to try to get the White House to commute the sentences of these two men and how it’s brought both sides of the aisle together in a rare display of political harmony. That U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) (among others) have joined key Republicans in this matter says something important, and it’s why I wanted to talk to Rohrabacher about it.

You probably know the background on this, but here it is again.

First, the Ramos version of what happened Feb. 17, 2005. Agent Compean was patrolling the southern side of a levee road near the Rio Grande on the U.S.-Mexico border. He saw a suspicious van and called for backup. Ramos arrived as backup and another agent followed the van — with drug dealer Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila at the wheel. Ramos and the other agent trailed the van through a small town until it eventually headed back toward the Rio Grande (the border between Mexico and the United States). Aldrete-Davila, who was unable to outrun the agents, stopped his van on a levee, got out and made his way on foot. Compean waited for him on the other side of the levee. They both yelled for him to stop, but he kept running.

He refused to stop after more warnings. Ramos saw Aldrete-Davila turn toward him, pointing what he thought was a gun. Ramos shot, and wasn’t even aware if he hit him because he jumped into a waiting van with no problem. Seven other agents quickly arrived on the scene, and Compean picked up his shell casings. Ramos did not, though he failed to report the shooting.

As he told the San Bernardino County Sun newspaper back then, “The supervisors knew that shots were fired,” Ramos said. “Since nobody was injured or hurt, we didn’t file the report. That’s the only thing I would’ve done different.” As we know now, the van with Aldrete-Davila later was found to have about 800 pounds of marijuana inside.

Federal prosecutors offer a different version. They determined it is a violation of someone’s Fourth Amendment rights to shoot them in the back while fleeing if you don’t know who they are and/or if you don’t know they have a weapon.

Though Ramos testified he witnessed Aldrete-Davila with something “shiny” in his hand, he couldn’t state positively it was a gun. Prosecutors also alleged the agents didn’t know who this man was or what he had in the van — they just guessed.

“Agents are not allowed to pursue. In order to exceed the speed limit, you have to get supervisor approval, and they did not,” a prosecutor said.

Ramos countered with, “How are we supposed to follow the Border Patrol strategy of apprehending terrorists or drug smugglers if we are not supposed to pursue fleeing people? Everybody who’s breaking the law flees from us. What are we supposed to do? Do they want us to catch them or not?”

Rohrabacher wants them to catch them. And he doesn’t want the men, both fathers of three, wasting away in jail.

He told me he feels this case represents nothing less than fundamental justice for people who risk their lives serving our country.

“It’s about time we start appreciating what these men and women do. We need to show gratitude, and above all fairness — what’s happening here is unfair and completely inappropriate,” he said.

He detailed how the White House, even in the face of commuting the sentence for former vice presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby, has all but completely blown off efforts to have these officers pardoned.

“They’ve been arrogant — they’ve been bullheaded,” Rohrabacher said. “These men admitted the mistakes they’ve made, and look where they are today for sacrifices they made in apprehending a career drug dealer.”

Rohrabacher is livid at what has been happening, and he’s not afraid to speak out about it. Especially when it comes to how and why immunity was offered to Aldrete-Davila. After all, it was two weeks after the shooting that a Department of Homeland Security investigator, acting on a tip from another border patrol agent in Arizona, tracked down Aldrete-Davila in Mexico. He offered him immunity if he testified against the agents who shot at him.

Rohrabacher is curious (as perhaps we all should be) as to why the department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in El Paso pursued the matter so aggressively. He’s fighting to uncover all of the details, as well as to have U.S. Atty. Johnny Sutton testify under oath in a congressional hearing.

Today, it seems others are more than willing to join the fight in support of freeing the two jailed officers. What do you think? Based on what you know, do you support Rohrabacher’s efforts to free the two border patrol agents? Post your opinion at In The Pipeline, /columns/.

Next week, Part II of this story, including an aide to Rohrabacher’s disturbing details of a visit to the jail where one of the agents was brutally beaten.

  • CHRIS EPTING is the author of nine books, including “Images of America — Huntington Beach” and his latest, “Led Zeppelin Crashed Here, The Rock and Roll Landmarks of North America.” Write him at

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