to please the all-mighty Mexican Govt. Why morale is so low on the border patrol and why they're always hiring.

Somewhere, some drug smuggler is going to retire with $million$.

--

Breaking the silence
Convicted border agent tells his story
By Sara A. Carter, Staff Writer

EL PASO, Texas - Border Patrol Agent Ignacio Ramos could hear his heart racing. He could feel the dry, hot dust burning against his skin as he chased a drug trafficker trying to flee back into Mexico.

Ramos' fellow agent, Jose Alonso Compean, was lying on the ground behind him, banged up and bloody from a scuffle with the much-bigger smuggler moments earlier.

Suddenly the smuggler turned toward the pursuing Ramos, gun in hand. Ramos, his own weapon already drawn, shot at him, though the man was able to flee into the brush and escape the agents.

Now, nearly 18 months after that violent encounter, Ramos and Compean are facing 20 years in federal prison for their actions.

Why?

According to the U.S. attorney who successfully prosecuted the agents, the man they were chasing didn't actually have a gun, shooting him in the back violated his civil rights, the agents didn't know for a fact that he was a drug smuggler, and they broke Border Patrol rules about discharging their weapons and preserving a crime scene.

Even more broadly, Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Kanof said, Ramos and Compean had no business chasing someone in the first place.

"It is a violation of Border Patrol regulations to go after someone who is fleeing," she said. "The Border Patrol pursuit policy prohibits the pursuit of someone."

Her arguments, along with testimony from other agents on the scene and that of the smuggler himself, swayed a jury. It was a crushing blow to Compean and Ramos, both of whom had pursued suspects along the border as a regular part of their job.

It also appears to fly in the face of the Border Patrol's own edicts, which include "detouring illegal entries through improved enforcement" and "apprehending and detouring smugglers of humans, drugs and other contraband."

The smuggler was given full immunity to testify against the agents and complete medical care at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, in El Paso.

Neither Ramos nor Compean had granted an interview in the almost 18 months since the shooting.

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Compean's attorneys have told him to not speak to anyone about the case.

But Ramos and his family say they no longer can be silent.

"They don't throw this many charges at guys they've caught with over 2,000 pounds of marijuana," Ramos said. "There's murderers and child rapists that are looking at less time than me.

"I am not guilty. I did not do what they're accusing me of."

SPEAKING OUT
Ramos, 37, and Compean, 28, are set to be sentenced Aug. 22 for shooting Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, a Mexican citizen, on Feb. 17, 2005, in the small Texas town of Fabens, about 40 miles south east of El Paso.

A Texas jury convicted the pair of assault with serious bodily injury; assault with a deadly weapon; discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence; and a civil rights violation. Compean and Ramos also were convicted of four counts and two counts, respectively, of obstruction of justice for not reporting that their weapons had been fired.

The jury acquitted both men of assault with intent to commit murder.

But the conviction for discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence requires a minimum 10-year prison sentence. The sentences for the other convictions vary.

On July 25, the El Paso U.S. Probation Office recommended to Judge Kathleen Cardone that each man get 20 years.

Ramos, an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Naval Reserve and a former nominee for Border Patrol Agent of the Year, now has but one thing on his mind: What will happen to his wife and three young sons if he spends the next two decades in prison?

"It's (with) a leap of faith and my devotion to God that me and my family will make it through this," Ramos said as he looked at his wife, Monica, during an exclusive interview with the Daily Bulletin this past month in El Paso.

Two things were clear throughout the interview: Ramos is convinced he was simply doing his job when Aldrete-Davila was shot, and he is perplexed as to why he and his partner are being punished so severely.

IGNACIO'S STORY
Here's Ramos' version of what happened that day:

On Feb. 17, 2005, Compean was monitoring the south side of a levee road near the Rio Grande on the U.S.-Mexico border in Fabens when he spotted a suspicious van driving down the north end of the road. He called for backup.

Ramos headed to Fabens, where he thought he could intercept the van at one of only two roads leading in and out of the small town.

Another agent was already following the van -- with Aldrete-Davila at the wheel -- when Ramos arrived.

Ramos and the other agent followed the van through the center of town until it turned back toward the Rio Grande, which marks the border between Mexico and the United States. Aldrete-Davila, unable to outrun the agents, stopped his van on a levee, got out and started running. Compean was waiting for him on the other side of the levee.

"We both yelled out for him to stop, but he wouldn't stop, and he just kept running," Ramos said.

Aldrete-Davila made his way through a canal, and Ramos could hear Compean yelling for Aldrete-Davila to stop, he said.

"At some point during the time where I'm crossing the canal, I hear shots being fired," Ramos said. "Later, I see Compean on the ground, but I keep running after the smuggler."

Through the thick dust, Ramos watched as Aldrete-Davila turned toward him, pointing what appeared to be a gun.

"I shot," he said. "But I didn't think he was hit, because he kept running into the brush and then disappeared into it. Later, we all watched as he jumped into a van waiting for him. He seemed fine. It didn't look like he had been hit at all."

Seven other agents were on the scene by that time. Compean had already picked up his shell casings. Ramos did not, though he failed to report the shooting.

"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."

The van later was found to have about 800 pounds of marijuana inside.

A DIFFERENT TAKE
The version of events presented by the U.S. Attorney's Office during the agents' trial differed markedly from Ramos'.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 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," said Kanof, the assistant U.S. attorney.

Ramos testified during the trial that he saw Aldrete-Davila with something "shiny" in his hand, she said, and though Ramos told the Daily Bulletin he thought it was a gun, he couldn't be sure, she said.

Moreover, the agents "did not know...[Message truncated]