January 21, 2009

Shooting Suspects in the Back is Bad

My post at Pajamas Media this morning is drawing a lot of heat for labeling President Bush's commutation of former Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean his "final mistake."

I can certainly see the other side of the equation, as I personally prefer a walled, wired, and if necessary mined border with Mexico, but this case isn't as hard—for me at least—as some people would like to make it.

Cops that shoot fleeing suspects in the back, leave the wounded suspect to fend for himself, and then attempt to cover-up the incident deserve considerable jail time, and sentences of 11 and 12 years don't seem excessive in that context from where I sit.

Do I wish their aim had been a little better? Certainly. I despise drug dealers as well. But the suspect's profession doesn't mitigate the decisions made by these two former officers, and in my opinion, they didn't deserve their commutations (and certainly do not deserve the pardons some were lobbying for).

Update: The Dallas Morning News had a similar reaction to the commutation:

...this newspaper does not agree with Bush's decision to commute the sentences of former border agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who, respectively, were serving 11- and 12-year federal prison terms for shooting a Mexican drug dealer. This was a despicable crime: The two officers had no idea the unarmed man was trafficking in drugs when they shot him in the back side as he ran for the border near El Paso. They then took extraordinary steps to cover up the shooting with a false report.

Their actions are an affront to Border Patrol agents who perform a difficult and thankless job, and the pair's sentences were upheld last year by a federal appeals court.

Itís regrettable that Bush shortened their jail time but significant that he found middle ground and didnít grant them pardons. Their convictions will remain on the record.

Perhaps the commutation will end the undeserved celebrity status that had erupted around these two former agents. Anti-immigration organizations have used them as poster boys to perpetuate a myth that they were in prison for doing their jobs while drug smugglers were allowed to go free.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Ramos and Compean committed felonies and were rightly brought to justice. Perhaps now the Obama administration can have a comprehensive immigration discussion without this distraction clouding the conversation.

Perhaps appropriately enough, they've been greeted with a similar response by their readers, who claim that they must favor the rights of drug dealers over that of police officers.

If that was the case, I'd agree as well.

But Compean and Ramos did not know the suspect was a drug dealer at the time. They followed a suspicious vehicle on a chase, then immediately engaged in a foot pursuit of the driver without having a chance to know why his was running. Should we really write our laws to allow law enforcement officers to do whatever they want, allowing themselves to justify it after the fact?

Ramos and Compean shot at a guy who could have stolen copper, had a warrant for failing to appear in court for a parking ticket... they simply didn't know. If you've ever watched COPS, you know that stupid people run for the police for all sorts of idiotic reasons, and officers are almost never justified at shooting at a fleeing suspect 14 times (Compean) or Ramos (once).

That the suspect in the case was later determined to be an illegal, and a drug smuggler with hundreds of pounds of drugs, cannot justify what they did before they had that knowledge.

I strongly suspect the vast majority of support for these officers would have never existed if the officers had fired upon a fleeing middle-aged white guy poaching wild game.

Please tell me where I'm wrong.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at January 21, 2009 08:44 AM

Given the fact that a true war is being raged in Mexico as we speak (with AQ type beheadings) and that this war is already spilling over to the USA, I say give Ramos and Compean a full pardon and several boxes of ammo.

Yeah I know, I'm a meanie, racist, etc. Heard it all before.


Posted by: Tater at January 21, 2009 10:40 AM

First, there is no law against shooting fleeing felons. As a matter of fact Justice Sandra Day Oconnor said it was completely legal, that no person could lawfully flee arrest and deadly force was justified. Current federal policy says that fleeing felons can be shot if they represent a threat to others. So, there is nothing inherently illegal or immoral to shoot fleeing felons. One of the reasons that crime was so low in the 50s was that cops shot fleeing felons and beat them up when they resisted arrest.

And in this case in particular, the first line supervisors of Ramos and Campeon knew about the shooting and did not instruct either to write a report. You must remember that two supervisors were disiplined for not reporting the shooting. The were even given immunity to testify against Ramos and Campeon.

Finally, they did not leave the drug smuggler "to fend for himself." He fled from them into Mexico, where Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to go. He was fleeing and did not want to be caught because he was a drug smuggler.

Lets get a few facts straight before we blog.

Posted by: Federale at January 21, 2009 11:02 AM

Tater, Compean couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

Posted by: Pablo at January 21, 2009 11:04 AM

Have to just agree to disagree with you on this one CY. I don't presume to even comprehend what it's like to have to patrol a boarder where only one side follows the rules. Getting shot is the occupational hazard of being a criminal.

Posted by: Dan Irving at January 21, 2009 11:10 AM

While I'm not enamoured of the idea of shooting fleeing suspects, I will be the first to admit that I wasn't there.

Neither were any of us.

I, for one, am willing to give Campeon and Ramos the benefit of the doubt.

Anything, they did, pales by comparison of what happened to 80 innnocent men women and children at Waco TX.

Who is doing hard time for that little fiasco?

Posted by: Da Possum at January 21, 2009 11:27 AM

Emphatically disagree.
Thank you President Bush!

Posted by: Greybeard at January 21, 2009 11:45 AM

Maybe it's me but when you flee an officer you chances of being shot in the back does rise a little doesn't it or is it just me.

Posted by: Anthony at January 21, 2009 12:09 PM

The reason that is it not hard for you is that you are uninformed about the actual events of that day, and the steps taken to convict them with charges that had never been intended to be used against law enforcement agents.

Dig into the facts some more and you will see that it gets A LOT harder to hold your posted position.

Posted by: Voidseeker at January 21, 2009 12:49 PM

I rarely disagree totally with what you say. This is an exception. Not only should they have received full pardons, they should never have been tried. They were convicted on perjured testimony by a career criminal and the US Attorney involved knew it. He should be in jail, not them.

Meanwhile, the drug gangs know any Border Agent who tries to protect the country will be prosecuted for political purposes.

Posted by: Ken Hahn at January 21, 2009 01:05 PM

"I strongly suspect the vast majority of support for these officers would have never existed if the officers had fired upon a fleeing middle-aged white guy poaching wild game.

Please tell me where I'm wrong."

Seriously CY? You're gonna play the race card on this one?

Come on, you know you're better than that.

Posted by: Dan Irving at January 21, 2009 02:16 PM

Dan, I'm not playing the race card... as a blond-haired, blue-eyed white guy, I've never been allowed to touch one, much less play it.

Many commenters however--and it is worse in the comments at PJM than here--obviously have been heavily influenced by the fact that the guy shot was A). Mexican, B) an illegal, C) a drug dealer (which was only confirmed well after he'd been shot). They are obviously willing to abandon the law because of their frustration with open borders/amnesty/illegals/crime, etc.

By applying a different character in the same general situation--a white poacher--I would hope that the politics, bigotry, and raw anger that seems to be clouding the judgment of many would fall away.

It's obviously not going to work for all people, but let's be honest and admit that anti-illegal hatred has fueled quite a bit of the support for these two former officers.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at January 21, 2009 02:54 PM

I found a rather concise summary of the trial and the events of the shooting over at FreeRepublic -

While I still don't agree with the 10 year sentences, and I do believe a commuation was in order, I now believe that mess Campeon and Ramos found themselves in was largely of their own doing.

Their lives were not endangered - not even threatened and if they had followed regluations, they wouldn't have ended up in jail.

Posted by: Da Possum at January 21, 2009 03:34 PM

Your web sight is the first one that told me THE REST OF THE STORY. I call myself a neutralist because I want ALL the information on a subject before I make a decision on it. I knew the jury, then later on, the president heard the whole story that happened. I figured there must be more to the story than I knew so far. It turns out I was right. Thank you for THE REST OF THE STORY.

Posted by: Smorgasbord at January 21, 2009 04:05 PM

I"d say it was not a mistake. A full Pardon would have been one. Commutation was the best compromise.

Posted by: JP at January 21, 2009 05:08 PM

"...that had never been intended to be used against law enforcement agents."

Telling turn of phrase which shows that CY is willing to think outside the box and not follow the herd.

A civilian badge is not -- has never been -- license to wage war on American soil. The "SWAT" cowards who tact up at the first sign of push-back, at the hint of a hairy situation are a disgrace to the long history of the thin, BRAVE blue line.

Posted by: JAT at January 21, 2009 06:26 PM

You are absolutely right CY.These guys should still be in prison.

Posted by: Rusty2 at January 21, 2009 07:16 PM

A vehicle moving on dirt roads adjacent to the border is presumed to be a smuggling vehicle given the facts that there is no other reason for a private vehicle to be in that spot. It is well within their training and experience to conclude that the vehicle was loaded with drugs or people, and since only the driver ran, that the vehicle carried drugs. Aliens always run when their smuggler runs. Drugs, since they don't have legs, can't run when the smuggler runs. Not many people poach game on that part of the border, and, regardless, white people assist in smuggling, but, obviously, not many white people smuggle in that particular area. Most white smugglers use the Ports-of-Entry to smuggle. Ramos and Campeon correctly concluded, based on experience and training, that the driver was a smuggler. Yeah, people run for many reasons, but in that particular area and that particular situation, someone running because they are stupid is very unlikely. You must also not that Campeon was on the loosing end of a physical confrontation with the smuggler.

Again, also note, that shooting fleeing felons has been justified by moderate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day OConnor in a written dissent.

Also, federal policy, not law, is that fleeing felons may be shot if the office thinks they represent a threat of serious bodily injury and/or death.

Also note that both Ramos and Campeon reported the shooting to their first line supervisor who told them not to write a report. Remember that both the supervisors on scene were given immunity for admitting that fact.

Posted by: Federale at January 21, 2009 07:36 PM

With regard to the race card, it is disappointing that it was raised. It is beneath the dignity of this blog to use Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson/Baraka Hussein Obama non-logic. A white smuggler would have enjoined the same support for Ramos and Compeon, perhaps more since the Mexican lobby would have had a reason to support the Mexican Americans involved rather than the Mexican involved. I, for one, am glad to see my fellow whites shot by the police because I believe that criminal behavior is contrary to the principles of Western Civilization.

The other important issue that was raised was Waco, and the other issue that should be raised, which is Ron Horiuchi, who shot an unarmed woman in the head because he was given orders to shot any adult on the Weaver property.

I know a Civil Rights Division trial attorney who had no answer as to why Horiuchi was not prosecuted, much less the supervisors who gave written shot-to-kill orders.

So, what we have here is a big double standard on prosecutions in police shootings, much less that case of a Maryland police officer who was prosecuted by the Civil Rights Division for allowing her police dog to bite a fleeing felon.

Folks, if you are shooting white people, there will be no justice, but if you dare shoot a Mexican, the full weight of the federal government will fall on you. Beware the next time your local PD shoots a criminal who's next victim might have been you.

Posted by: Federale at January 21, 2009 07:52 PM

Ramos and Compean did not report the shooting to their supervisor at the time of the shooting or at any time until the investigation commenced. How could R & C claim that they were shooting at a fleeing felon when they had not seen Davila exit the van and they certainly did not know if he had been convicted of a felony. The other agent reported that Davila did stop running and tried to surrender but after hit with a shotgun decided that running was a better option.

Better yet why not read the point by point refutation of most of these wild and unsubstantiated claims;

As well as a narrative of the shooting, the trial and the circus:

Ramos and Compean had a two week trial to attack their own depositions, the physical evidence and the witness testimonies but were unable to convince a jury of anything other than that they were guilty. And their string of not being believed continued in a string of losses at the various appeals. They only place they seem to have been successful is convincing the gullible and lazy of their innocence.

Everyone keeps referring to a right to shoot a fleeing felon when the dissent in that case arose from Tennessee v. Garner where state law had allowed a suspect of a felony to be shot if it was possible he would escape if not stopped. The standard used then had to be reasonable and the circumstances were mad moot by the agents because they did not arrest Davila when they had an obligation and a chance to do so. But when R&C made no attempt to arrest Davila as he lay wounded then the majority opinion in the case held and O'Connor's dissent became just as not applicable as it was before. The BP agents may shoot if allowed under state law but they must effect an arrest. They cannot simply shoot then walk away. Plus we do not make criminal law conform to the minority opinions of SCOTUS but rather the majority. Below is the text of the decision of Tennessee v Garner;

Posted by: Pat Patterson at January 21, 2009 11:21 PM

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 1/22/2009, at The Unreligious Right

Posted by: UNRR at January 22, 2009 07:10 AM

You're correct, CY.

Shooting someone in the back is simply wrong. The coverup only compounds the situation.

That said, commutation was a good move; the convictions remain on the record.

Posted by: dad29 at January 22, 2009 09:28 AM

So their aim should be better so as to kill the fleeing men, but the shooters sentences should be long. Oh Constipated and Kranky you've got your mind in a bunch.

Posted by: ConstipatedNKranky at January 22, 2009 04:01 PM

204 comments, including this one between here and PJM. Is that a record?

Posted by: Pat Patterson at January 22, 2009 11:37 PM

What I've yet to see from anyone in this debate, anywhere, is the role that prosecutorial discretion plays. This situation is often parsed in terms of who's right, the officers or the jury that convicted them? The argument being that the officers had a trial and were convicted by a jury of their peers, therefore, they deserve what they got and justice was served. While I don't know every specific detail of this case, there are some factors that should be considered.

Let us assume that the officers made mistakes. It falls then to the prosecutor to decide if those mistakes rise to the level of criminal conduct, and to what degree. The prosecutor in this case had the option, as do all prosecutors, not to charge the defendants. Allowing the Border Patrol to handle the matter would have been within the prosecutor's legitimate exercise of discretion. But why might a prosecutor want to do that?

It's been said that the officers didn't know the drug dealer as a drug dealer and that they had no idea what he was doing when they shot him. Therefore, their conduct must be judged entirely on what they knew at the time of the incident. This is a sterile and naive way of looking at such things and is one of the primary reasons why prosecutors have substantial discretion. If it turned out that the officers shot a priest on the way to a baptism, that line of thinking might have greater appeal, but when we consider that the suspect was a very bad guy indeed, in fact, someone who did, before and after meeting the officers, far more damage to the United States that the officers could even imagine doing, there is much to be said for a prosecutor taking that information into account.

Remember too that there is a double standard of justice, perhaps even a triple standard, with which every police officer tries to deal. Officers understand that they must adhere to higher standards, but they will be treated very differently--often far more harshly--when they make mistakes than will citizens and criminals. Officers must make split second decisions on matters of life and death and must be right 100% of the time. Those who will judge their actions will have the comfort and convenience of hindsight and facts unknown to the officers.

The fact is that this case need never have been brought to trial, particularly when one considers the character and actions of the "victim." Putting these two men in jail served justice? That's why prosecutors have discretion, because the law cannot anticipate all factors and all situations, and mitigating factors sometimes demand something other than what the law can anticipate.

Posted by: Mike at January 23, 2009 12:00 AM

Once it became known that the two agents shot a total of 15 times at an unarmed man, didn't attempt to arrest him and then tried to clean up the scene the US Attorney didn't have any choice in the matter as the law, Title 18 usc sec.924(c)(1)(A)(iii) required that this case of a shooting during a crime of violence with a minimum of ten years. Congress attached no exception for law enforcement.

They didn't even know for sure if Davila was the driver, they didn't know if there were drugs in the van, they lied and covered up reporting the shooting to their supervisors, they failed to file a shooting report, they fired 15 times, the saw Davila fall and then made no attempt to arrest him. They even perjured themselves in the courtroom in trying to contradict the shooting report that was eventually filed and their signed depositions.

It's very simple in that in this case there was no prosecutorial discretion. The circumstances of the case made it obvious they had violated Title 18 and the judge and jury agreed. People assume that all acts by law enforcement are covered by in re. Nagle but that only applied to an officer carrying out his duty. With Nagle it was to protect a California senator from an assassin while R&C's duties were to only shoot when in imminent danger. A guy that first tries to surrender by raising his hands and saying "No me pegues" clearly falls in the category of using a weapon in an act of violence.

Once Davila crossed over the border into the US all civil protections afforded to American citizens also covered him. What difference does his character make when at the time of the shooting the agents didn't know who he was nor even be sure that he was driving the van.

Posted by: Pat Patterson at January 23, 2009 01:38 AM

Last sentence second to last paragraph should have read, "...saying 'No me pegues'(don't hit me)clearly does not fall un the category of using a weapon in an act of violence." Which might have justified the terrible accuracy of the one agent.

Posted by: Pat Patterson at January 23, 2009 08:59 AM